Isn’t It Good, Norwegian Wood

norwegianwood2

Isn’t It Good, Norwegian Wood by Chris Green

Rubber Soul is my favourite Beatles album. It is the album in which John Lennon raises his game. In My Life is surely one of the most perfectly crafted pop songs ever, Girl is sublime, and still there is the enigmatic Norwegian Wood. Norwegian Wood with its veiled imagery describes a clandestine affair that Lennon is having. Biographer, Philip Norman claims in his Lennon biography that the song’s inspiration is in fact, German model, Sonny Drane, Robert Freeman’s first wife, who used to say she was from Norway when she was in fact born in Berlin.

I am looking at the Robert Freeman’s famous cover photo for Rubber Soul, one of a collection that line the hallway at Florian and Rhonda’s house in Hanover Hill. The photos, taken in late 1965, capture the Fab Fours’s weariness as their fame and hectic touring schedules become overwhelming.

Florian and Rhonda’s house in Wellesley Crescent is the last in a terrace of First-Rate Georgian townhouses. Hanover Hill’s fashionable avenues, lined with London plane trees, give the area an air of elegance, and the Repton-designed park which was originally used as a run for horses, still boasts the trappings of its earlier prestige. Monuments and statues to the great and good populate its freestone crescents and circuses, and blue plaques abound. Desirable, substantial, imposing and stunning are among the adjectives you might find in Hamilton and Prufrock’s window to describe the properties here, along of course with Grade 2 and Listed.

Florian and Rhonda are old friends from my days at the Royal Academy of Music. Although our fortunes have over the years pulled us in different directions, we have kept in touch. Having finished tuning a vibraphone in the area, I have called round to see them on the off-chance they might be in and have been let in anonymously by their entryphone.

My partner, Sara is less than enthusiastic about Florian and Rhonda. She feels they are too intellectual. Sara prefers the company of more down to earth couples like her friends, Wendy and Wayne or Amanda and Adam. She likes to have a diary of firm arrangements, such as dinner parties or theatre visits. She does not respond well to many of my impromptu suggestions, so I have adopted the policy of leaving her out of the loop on occasions that I want to do something a little spontaneous.

‘Hello!’ I call out. ‘It’s me, Jon.’

There is no reply. I pop my head around a couple of doors. Florian and Rhonda are eclectic in their tastes, mixing styles with what they term, measured abandon. They see themselves as conceptual artists, and in addition to Wellesley Crescent, rent a warehouse in Hartwell, which they use as creative space. They could never be described as predictable. In the first room, an Indian sits cross-legged quietly playing the sitar. He does not look up. The second houses film sets that might have belonged to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and the third, Florian’s model railway. I make my way up the sweeping staircase to the first floor. A pair of Palladian plinths with busts of classical figures hovers on the landing with an abstract steel and glass installation beside them in belligerent juxtaposition. I knock gently on the heavy oak door to the right which has been left slightly ajar and walk in.

Taking up most of the first floor, the room is absurdly large, much larger than I remember it. Its high ceiling and elaborate cornices give it the appearance of a hall or a theatre. The room is in semi-darkness It seems I have arrived in the middle of a film. As I become accustomed to the low light, I look around to get my bearings. Sombre paintings, a curious mix of Dalí and De Chirico, are on display, along with Florian and Rhonda’s familiar J. B. Joyce clock, reminiscent of the one at the station in Brief Encounter, stopped for eternity at eleven minutes past eleven. They once explained the significance of eleven minutes past eleven, but I cannot recall what this is. I feel self-conscious at not being acknowledged.

I take in the assembly of arbitrary faces, all of which I seem to recognise. They are seated in an informal arrangement of chairs and cushions around the room. This curious collection of random representatives from my past is alarming. Some have aged as you would expect over a period of time, but others are, to my consternation, exactly as I remember them years ago. No sign of their having aged. All eyes are focussed on the giant TV and Home Cinema system. No one looks up as, with an air of trepidation, I sit myself down on a Verona armchair just inside the door. Apart from the intermittent echo of the soundtrack of the film, there is a hush which is disturbingly pervasive. The film is in what I take to be Swedish but has no subtitles. Is it Ingemar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries? I wonder. I feel a growing dryness in my throat. I have difficulty breathing. My chest tightens. The whole scene is so out of context I think it must be a dream. It isn’t a dream. In a dream you can’t feel your heartbeat, and mine is pounding like a hammer.

There is an eerie detachment about all of those present, as if each of them is in his or her own private universe, but by accident rather than design happen to occupy the same space here in this room. They sit alone or in pairs, and the body language of each seems to suggest that they have no connection with any of the others. But then, as I look around again, I conclude there is no connection. This is not a reunion. These people would not know one another. There would have been no reason for their ever coming together. I am the only link. I know or have known each of them as separate individuals in different areas and at different times in my life. Some I have met through jobs I have had, some through recreational pursuits and others through transactions of one kind or another. Furthermore, I can see no-one here that I would choose to meet in the pub for a pint.

The flickering light from the film illuminates the figures and their faces take on a spectral glow. If Florian and Rhonda are aiming at strange they have certainly cracked it. A few feet away from me sitting upright in a carver seat is Bob Scouler, the nerdy systems programmer I worked with at International Adhesives and Sealants over thirty years ago, a temporary summer job and well before the toxicity of their products caused a major scandal. Bob is wearing the same grey serge suit I remember, along with the familiar tattersall check shirt and lovat and mauve paisley tie. His haircut, the neat central parting and the sides hanging just over the tip of his ears is from the same era, although even then a somewhat dated look. He has not aged a day. He looks as if he has just stepped out of the office. I half expect him to start talking about his Morris Marina (brown with a black vinyl roof). Are those IBM coding sheets that he has on his lap?

Next to him stretched out on a bank of Moroccan floor cushions is Razor, my son Damien’s one-time drug dealer. He used to hang about outside the college I recall. Did Damien still owe him money, I wonder, or is it Razor that owes him drugs? Razor does seem to have aged dramatically. In fact. were it not been for the scar across his cheek I might not have recognised him. The original scar, a legacy rumour has it of a ‘turf war’, seems to have been joined by a companion just below the jungle of gold earrings. He must only be in his mid-thirties but with the reds, yellows and greens of the tattoos that cover his shaved head now faded, Razor looks distressingly old.

Bob and Razor are polar opposites. The chances of them being part of the same social group in any circumstances are remote. Florian and Rhonda are perhaps conducting an anthropological experiment of some sort. Or could this gathering be an example of their conceptual art?

Over by the bamboo palm there is the bulky frame of Ray (Marshall) Stax, who I briefly shared a converted railway carriage with in the seventies. Marshall became a sound engineer with a number of rock bands that nearly made it. As I played the piano, I came up with the odd melody for one or two of the bands. I was never credited, but the royalties would not have been staggering had I been, even with Armageddon. The NME showed an interest in Armageddon’s début single Don’t You Fuck My Dog in 1976 calling it a punk anthem. It suffered from a subsequent lack of airplay and Armageddon faded into obscurity when the following month the NME turned their attention to The Sex Pistols as the ambassadors of punk. I think they took my piano part out in the mix anyway. I recall Armageddon disbanded after the singer accidentally shot himself in the groin. Looking at Marshall, he has not changed that much except that the platforms and flares I remember have been replaced by contemporary cool clothes, screaming with designer advertising. The clothes may have been au courant but his features suggest that he is still in his twenties. I might be looking at Marshall Stax circa 1976, or this could conceivably be Marshall Stax’s son although the Sid Vicious haircut clearly belongs to yesteryear. I make gestures in his direction but I am unable to attract his attention.

Seated on a gnarled banquette, which matches her leathery countenance, is Denise Felch, who was my manager at the local newspaper I worked on as music correspondent a few years back. She is dressed in mismatched browns and reds. I don’t know if it is her build (Rugby League second row), but whatever she wears, Denise had the ability to make look like a sack. She seems to be the only person in the room who is smoking and you have to say that she smokes with dogged determination. The light from the screen highlights the nicotine stains on all her fingers and even her spectacles have a brownish tint. The ashtray on the telephone table beside her is full. Denise does not look over and for this I am thankful. My severance pay from The Morning Lark was not generous and we did not part on good terms.

Why is everyone ignoring me? Haven’t I materialised properly? Or am I out of focus maybe, like the Robin Williams character in the Woody Allen movie?

I spot Colin and Malcolm, the landlords of The Duck, a pub by the river Sara and I often visit on a summer evening for a drink or two watching the boats make their way round the gentle meander. Sara and I were invited to their Civil Ceremony but we agreed that it was not the right social mêlée, although as I recall the real reason may have been that the date had clashed with Sara’s amateur tennis tournament. And seated on a Marley two seater here in this room now mulling over a Sudoku puzzle book are Eileen and Mark from Sara’s tennis club. Sara seems to be spending a lot of time there lately with her tennis coach, Henrik. I wonder if maybe they are having an affair. Eileen and Mark look as if they would be more comfortable at home with their ceramic induction hob and their range of rice cookers. They of course like everyone else in the room do not seem to notice me.

And my God! There is Ravi from Maharajah Wines, the offie where I used to buy my cans when I played sessions at Olympic Studios. He was always open at two in the morning when I finished my shift. Ravi used to call me George, after George Harrison I think. I never asked. ‘Got some Drum under the counter George if you are wanting it,’ he would say. ‘Special price for you on Stella.’ Was that twenty five years ago? It seems like twenty five minutes ago. Haven’t I just put a can of Stella beside me down? I pick it up and shake it. It is empty. I have been in the room now for perhaps twenty five seconds, but time seems to be playing tricks.

I have never entirely come to terms with the passing of time. The general experience of its passage is that at twenty, it could be likened to a pedestrian able to take in the surroundings at leisure, at thirty an accelerating velocipede, at forty a frisky roadster, at fifty a bullet train, and thereafter a supersonic jet. However there are some puzzling things about the moment, any given moment, being there and then gone and irretrievable that doesn’t sit well with the perception of it in one’s consciousness. Something doesn’t quite add up about the way many things that are important at the time fade into the obscure recesses of the unconscious while other trivial recollections from long ago survive intact and seem like they happened only yesterday highlights time’s inconsistency. I have to keep a detailed diary and refer to it constantly to keep track of what I did and when. I use Te Neues art diaries. But even with this record, all that I am doing was measuring change. I read recently that scientists no longer see time as linear, the bad news for us being that they believe our brains are programmed through a process of indoctrination to think of time as linear. We remember things happening in the past, things are moving around in the present, we can plan to do things in the future and we have an agreed upon measurement of time – so the mind gives the illusion of time and continuum. All there is, however, is now and things happening now and moving around. It could be that time is a loop or even infinite, or both. I have been known to espouse, usually after a glass of wine or two, that all time probably exists simultaneously.

I take the soft melting watches in Salvador Dalí’s painting The Persistence of Memory which I notice is a design for one of the floor cushions in the room, to be a reference to temporal anomaly. Clocks seem to be measuring something but no one knows what. It’s not like length. You can point to an object with a real physical reality and say that’s one unit in length’. But time is abstract. Cool cushion, though! And also in what must be a surrealist set of cushions is Rene Magritte’s Time Transfigured, (the one with the steam locomotive emerging from the fireplace). Ongoing Time Stabbed by a Dagger is the literal translation for the title of the painting, I recall. The distortion of time is clearly a recurrent theme in this outrageous display. I am almost sure the cushion design that Damien’s old Geography teacher at St Judes, Miss Jackson is sitting on is Man Ray’s Seven Decades of Man. And the set is completed by Otto Rapp’s Consumption of Time. Definitely not a casual buy from Ikea.

Is that Halo, my old jin shin jytsu therapist sipping the green coloured drink? I only went to see her twice – too much mumbo jumbo, but recall a cornucopia of vibrant Berber jewellery from those meetings. I smile at her, and she hesitantly she smiles back, leaving perhaps an opening for conversation, which neither of us takes . Again it comes to mind that I seem to know all the people here, but they are, like Halo, bit players in my life. No-one out of this mismatched melée has been a close acquaintance or played a significant role. Any rationality in their being here eludes me. And if for whatever peculiar reason they are Florian and Rhonda’s guests, where for Heaven’s sake are the hosts?

It takes me a little while to work out the figure in the blue and white striped blazer and straw hat sitting on a settee in front of an old vellum map of Scandinavia is Chick Strangler. I am more accustomed to seeing him in Lycra. We used to go cycling together on Sunday mornings a few years ago when it became apparent that both of us needed to shed a few pounds. I myself resisted the lure of Lycra for these outings, favouring a warm and comfortable tracksuit. Chick has left the bike in the garage once or twice over the past five years by the look of his girth. Chick and his wife Cheryl lived next door to Sara and me in Dankworth Drive. Red bricked semis on a suburban estate, near the golf course. Last I heard the Stranglers had moved to Florida. A long way to come to watch a Swedish film – which I now notice is displaying its subtitles – in French.

My French is a little rusty but Isak, the old man in the film recalling his life seems to be saying something along the lines of ‘I don’t know how it happened, but the day’s reality flowed into dreamlike images.’ I don’t even know if it was a dream, (rêve is dream isn’t it?) or memories which arose with the force of real events. And then something about playing the piano.’

There are too many big words but I recognise odd phrases, something about a strangely transformed house and a girl in a yellow cotton dress picking wild strawberries. I try to follow for a little while. The old man has found a portal into the past it seems and is trying to talk to Sara, the girl he loved who married his brother, Sigfrid.

The crisp black and white images flash over the faces in the room.

I become aware of Russ Harmer and Dolly Dagger. Have they just arrived or have they up till now been hidden from sight? Russ Harmer was the neighbourhood bully when I was growing up. For years, he menaced and beat up anyone who did not suck up to him, until one day he ran into Borstal boy, Tank Sherman. Whether Russ became less odious after the fierce hammering he had taken is difficult to say, but it had knocked his facial features into a shape that remained easily recognisable today. I cannot connect him with Dolly Dagger in any way but here they are together. I shared a house in Dark Street with Dolly Dagger, along with a forever changing roundabout of short term tenants in the months of my post-student malaise. Dolly Dagger was in those days working as an escort and even then it seemed hell bent on a descent into drugs, one which fortunately I did not succumb to. We are not talking a little Blow or even an occasional toot of Charlie here, although that’s how it started. We are talking freebasing and needles and pinza. Despite the decline, Dolly has one of those faces that somehow still retains the carelessness of youth, fine Oriental features you could never forget. She has aged, certainly, but at least she is still alive.

It is a monumental shock to see Bernie Foden who used to service my Sierra. I have palpitations as my heart goes into overdrive. Bernie died ten years ago of throat cancer. I went to his funeral. I close my eyes and open them again. He is still there. This is not a faint apparition, this is a living, breathing, three-dimensional human form.

‘Bernie!’ I venture. He does not reply.

The rupture of logic here in this sinister theatre is stifling. My nerves are in tatters. What on earth is happening here? Am I having a nervous breakdown?

Just when I think the disturbing soiree can get no more bizarre, the actor Dirk Bogarde, who I have never met, drifts in dressed immaculately in a dark three-piece suit, Borsalino hat and thin woolen tie. He looks as he did in his matinee idol days. Didn’t Dirk die recently too? If so, no one seems to have told him. He breezes over to me and holds out his manicured hand. We shake hands and he congratulates me on something that in the confusion goes over my head. He then switches his interest to the film and sits down next to Razor. Neither acknowledges the other.

This is all too kooky. I decide I have to pull out to go and look for Florian and Rhonda. They will hopefully be able to shed some light on what this surreal circus is all about.

Set over several floors with unexpected half landings and mezzanines and many other changes to what would have been the original design of the house, their home is a bit of a maze. Florian and Rhonda bought the house as a project at the beginning of the property boom in the early eighties and have bit by bit converted it. Not in a conventional way by any means. I feel an eerie chill and pull my jacket around me as I explore the photographic darkroom and the embalming suite on the other side of the hallway. Finding no-one there I start to make my way upstairs.

It is by now getting dark and I cannot find a light switch. In fact, mounted flush on the wall where you might expect to find a switch is a full 88 key piano keyboard. Do I have to play a note or select a chord to turn on the light, I wonder. I experiment with a few chords, C major and C Minor, D major and D minor then all the other majors and minors. No lights come on. I play Wagner’s famous ‘Tristan Chord’. ‘Disorientating and daring’, they called it at the time. It isn’t the one, though. Still, no lights. Perhaps I need to play a tune. I play the opening bars of What’ I’d Say and Imagine. The intro to Bohemian Rhapsody. All a bit too obvious maybe. I try the opening from Blue Rondo à La Turk and one of Satie’s Gymnopédies or is it a Gnossienne? I notice that a shaft of light is now guiding me to a room on one of the upper floors.

As I reach the top of the stairs, Anna appears from the room carrying a Rococo style floral tray. She offers me a bagel. Her greeting is one of expectation rather than surprise. Mine is one of surprise. Astonishment!

‘Would you like it with cream cheese?’ she asks. An amatory smile flashes mischievously.

Anna looks exactly as I remember her five years ago; we had a clandestine liaison when she was married to Bob. Anna has not changed a bit. She is tanned and her hair is cut in the same way in a longish bob cut and even has the same russet red colour. Flame red I think it was called. She has full lips, and eyes that are so dramatically large, volatile, and seductive, so strikingly set, that I wonder if they are real. Her Louis Vuitton skirt hugs her hips tightly and her breasts seem to be powering their way out of the low cut top she is wearing.

Sensing my embarrassment at our meeting she says. ‘I don’t have the patience for foreign films either.’

We make small talk for a while about the freak thunderstorms we have been having lately and the tabloid sub-editors’ strike. I do not want to advertise the full scale of my bewilderment at the series of events unfolding. Here is a beautiful woman I haven’t seen for years and I do not want to burden her with my insecurities. Sometimes there can be more than one explanation to a situation.

‘What about you?’ I ask. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I live here,’ she smiles. ‘I rent rooms off your friends Florian and Rhonda. Would you like me to show you?’

She leads me off to her pied a terre. It is brightly coloured and furnished with pine furniture in the Scandinavian style. I sit on a rug. She opens a bottle of red wine to go with the bagels and cream cheese. She slips her skirt off slowly to the sound of a sultry tenor saxophone. Anna has one of those hi-fi setups you can hear in every room. Stan Getz was always our favourite. The wispy mellow tone of Serenade in Blue is followed by Secret Love, But Beautiful, and Lover Man

When Anna and I return downstairs a little later, the film has finished. The guests all seem to have left and Florian and Rhonda are clearing away.

I ask about the guests.

‘Just some people from the film club,’ says Rhonda. ‘We are looking at the Bergman classic to explore the concept of ‘the unreliable narrator.’

‘I didn’t think you two were there,’ I say. ‘I could not see you.’

‘There were only six of us this week,’ said Florian. ‘Bit disappointing really.’

I begin counting. ‘What about Marshall and Razor, Chick, Denise Felch, Bob Scouler, Colin and Malcolm, Dolly Dagger, Russ, and Ravi. Bernie, Halo, Miss Jackson, Eileen and Mark from the tennis club. And Dirk Bogarde.’

‘What?’ say Florian. ‘Who?’

‘They were all here watching the film,’ I protest.

‘No, there was just myself and Rhonda, Elliot and Rachel, and the Melton Constables,’ insists Florian. ‘Six of us.’

‘Either way, doesn’t that prove the point?’ says Rhonda. ‘At some stage in a story, the reader will realise that the narrator’s interpretation of the events cannot be fully trusted and will begin to form their own opinions about the events and motivations within the story. After all a story is only a story. It’s fiction.’

‘What about the unreliable reader?’ says Anna.

‘The reader isn’t the one sending you on a wild goose chase or masking an affair,’ says Florian.

‘Isn’t everyone an unreliable reader though,’ says Anna. ‘After all everyone brings their own experience into the reading. What if this story is just about Jon coming to see me for a clandestine affair that he is trying to hide from Sara. And none of the rest of the story happens – and you all don’t exist.’

‘Anyone like a drink?’ asks Rhonda.

Anna says that she works in the morning and starts to laugh.

I find the bathroom and light up one that I made earlier. ‘Isn’t it good, Norwegian Wood.’

Anyhow, I do not think I shall tell Sara.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

Advertisements

The Startling Discovery of Phlogiston

phlogiston2

The Startling Discovery Of Phlogiston by Chris Green

Things started getting weird around here some time ago, following the startling discovery of phlogiston. The previous belief, kept alive for many years by charlatans, was that everything was made up of 118 elements, all arranged neatly by the number of protons, electron configurations and recurring chemical properties, into something they called the Periodic Table. What nonsense this seems now! How on earth did they get away with such poppycock for so long? It is now accepted worldwide that phlogiston, a substance without colour, odour, taste, or weight, is present in all materials.

Certainly, chemists struggled against the facts at first, insisting on their complex explanations of matter. I suppose this was understandable. After all, they were trying to protect their lucrative research posts. But, they were finally forced to admit that they had made up all of the mumbo-jumbo. We now know there are just four elements.

Since the startling discovery of phlogiston, things tend to be much more random. Here’s a snapshot.

Chris Christ, my housemate is watching the brilliant blind surfer, Tom Crews in the final of the water-sports on his screen. Crews is going for Gold.

Oh My God.’ CC screams as with the help of his guide dog, Marvin, Crews manages to get himself upright on the board and ride the huge breakers of the Boogaloo Bay swell.

CC tends to be easily impressed so I ignore his outburst. I am more interested in the Octathlon which is playing on the other channel. I am rooting for Curt Tarver in the Quoits. He is already twenty points ahead after an heroic performance in the Shin Kicking but his close rival, Bud Register has his best events, the Moonwalking and the Cheese Rolling still to come. And you can never rule out Benito Pond. He is the World Bog Snorkelling champion.

It is hard to believe that just a few years ago people played mindless team games like football and cricket and bet money on horses running around a wet track, jumping over hedges. And that silly game where they hit a ball backwards and forwards over a net for a few hours.

Imagine now, driving forty miles in a slow moving queue of traffic to an out of town retail park to buy a car-load of stuff that you didn’t need. These days everything just arrives as you need it. You don’t even have to go on the Internet. The Internet. What a waste of time that was!

Look! Here’s a delivery now! It’s simply uncanny how they know I need forty pounds of kelp and a rusty mangle. I greet Bryn, the driver of the Scammell Scarab. Bryn and I chat about sandstorms and gravy and, of course, about the benefits brought about by the startling discovery of phlogiston. Quite thoughtful of Bryn to have brought the bucket of snakes too. CC will be able to cook them up later and make a nice stew.

Bryn says he’s off down the road to Tequila Hawks’ caravan next. Tequila has entered the Poison Your Neighbour’s Pet competition and she needs henna to lace the neighbour’s ferret’s coca cola with. If she wins she is going to use her prize money to take the hovercraft to Rangoon.

Enjoy the sunshine,’ Bryn says as he gets into the Scammell.

I wonder why we are still pretending that the earth orbits the sun. How stupid is that? It’s clear that the sun moves around the earth. You can see it every day crossing the sky. It’s amazing just how much we are duped.

Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

 

 

Retriever

retriever

Retriever by Chris Green

Einstein posits
that the distinction between past, present and future is no more than a stubbornly persistent illusion. I can see where he was coming from this morning as I go through the mail. This certainly seems like the same CheapCall bill I received the day before yesterday. And the same BestPower statement? The circular from PayLess Insurance looks more than a little familiar too.

At fifty nine, it has to be said, my memory for detail is sketchier than it once was. When set against the political corruption, the floods and the threat of war in the Middle east, a duplication of paperwork is not a momentous problem. I have a large green recycling bin. More importantly, I am now late. It is 8.15 already and the traffic on Tambourine Way will be horrific if I don’t hurry. I scrape the ice off the Skoda’s windscreen and give it a few squirts of de-icer. I put a Johnny Cash CD into the player while the windows start to de-mist, and move off into the February frost.

I have a sense of déjà vu as I flash the headlights at Pedro, in his pickup on Princes Street, and again when I find myself behind a learner bus driver keeping to 30 where you could easily be doing 50 or 60, along Albion Avenue. My progress is further impeded by an accident at the Scott McKenzie roundabout. As I edge through the flashing blue chicane of parked police vehicles, I notice that the two battered cars seem to be the same two cars as in the accident two days ago, a white Fiat and a red Fiat. The impact of the collision has buckled both cars irreparably, as it had in the previous accident. I shudder. The coincidence is way beyond that presented by chance.

I arrive at Sanctuary Inanimate Pet Crèche and Counselling Service where I work. I greet Boris and Gerhard. I notice that the cyber dog that was collected by its owner the day before yesterday is already back. There is also, I feel, a familiarity about the headline War Dims Hope for Peace in Boris’s tabloid. And Gerhard seems to be having the same telephone conversation that he had a couple of days ago. Admittedly inanimate pet care is a repetitive line of work but the conversation with Major Churchill about his pet rock seems identical to the one earlier in the week. After Gerhard puts down the phone I tackle him about this.

He looks at me challengingly and says, ‘what are you taking about? I have never spoken to Major Churchill before. And this may be just a job to you but the Major’s pet rock does seem to be pretty sick.’

I think of taking up the point. Yes, it is just a job to me. Unlike Gerhard who sees a visit to the dentists as a bit of an outing, I have seen a bit of the world. But I keep quiet instead. What is the point? One pearl of wisdom that comes with age is that past glories count for nothing. I am here, and it is now. My life has taken a bit of a nosedive. Like Orson Welles, I seem to have lived my life backwards, if not quite in the sense I am about to.

Over the days that follow I have a permanent sense of déjà vu. Everything in my every day has happened previously. I have the same conversation with Spiro about West Ham’s problems in defence, spend the same hour chatting to my daughter, Promise on the phone about the dangers of putting too many personal details on Facebook, watch Groundhog Day again on DVD, buy another aspidistra from Marks and Spencer, another new metal detector from The Army and Navy Surplus Stores and another Corby trouser press from the charity shop by the library. The presidential election comes round again and they bring the old president back, and entertainer Rolf Harris is prosecuted again for entertaining children in in an inappropriate way. The hours on my watch are still going forward but the date is going backward.

At first I imagine that it must be a huge practical joke, admittedly one with a formidable amount of complicity. Whilst I do not exactly advertise my predicament in case people thought I am a basket case, no one I speak to displays any sense that anything is wrong with their own temporal world. There is nothing in the papers or on the news to suggest anything irregular in the cosmos, just the usual reports on war, politics and celebrity indiscretions. It appears that I am alone in my renegade perception of time, although there is a short item in The Morning Lite calling for a twenty five hour day. NASA scientists have apparently researched this and found that participants in the experiment benefited by the increased levels of melatonin. The findings it says would come in handy if astronauts go to Mars. A Martian day it points out lasts for 24.65 earthly hours.

There are a number of contradictions of logic involved in whatever it is I am experiencing. My days are still moving forwards in a linear fashion. I go to work, come home, go to the pub, walk the dog, watch the rerun episode of Spender on ITV3, and go to bed as normal, but when I wake up the next day, it is the day before yesterday. Each day, I become a day younger. This aspect of my condition is of course something that at my age I should be pleased about; instead of a creeping decay, there will be a gradual rejuvenation. In a world that places excessive emphasis on artifice, this is what millions of people dream of. Zillions of pounds every week are spent by slavish consumers on a staggering array of products promising the reversal of the inevitable. The consentient sorcery of keeping flowers in full bloom is the central tenet of our belief system.

If I am reliving the past there is plenty for me to look forward, or backward to. I have on balance enjoyed my life. There are all of the special places I have been with lovers or friends that I have felt I wanted to go back to sometime. All of the times I have said or thought, ‘I’ll always remember this.’ Things that just could not be captured on film. I reason I will also know when to expect the difficult times, like the divorce from Monique, Sebastian’s fatal illness, and the bankruptcy hearing. Painful though it will be, I can be ready for these episodes. And I can go on to experience youth with a wise head. What was it Oscar Wilde said? Youth is wasted on the young?

Despite these deliberations, the sequential upheaval continues to be both disconcerting and disorientating. After a week or so of going over the same ground, I decide to seek professional help. I find myself limited by the need to have an appointment on the same day. The medical profession does not operate this way. There is no point in my making an arrangement for the any time in future, and clearly I cannot make an appointment for last week or last month. Similarly I am unable to arrange to see a priest, a mystic, a philosopher, or even a time traveller at a few hours notice. The Auric Ki practitioner that I do manage to see at the community centre at short notice talks about meridians and explains that there might be blockages on the layers of my energy field. Over a dozen or so sessions she says she can balance my chakras and time will move forward again. I try to explain that she might need to do this in one session and she suggests if this is my attitude, then I should go elsewhere.

I begin to wonder what would happen if I do not actually go to bed. Will the day progress normally to the next, or will I at a certain point be flung back to the day before. It seems that despite my predicament, there is still an element of free will about my actions so I buy a wrap of speed, from Sailor, a friend of a friend in the Dancing Monk public house.

‘This is wicked gear,’ says Sailor, so named I assume because of his abundance of tattoos. ‘It will keep you busy for fucking days.’

Good,’ I remark. ‘I may need it to.’

I see the exercise as a demonstration of free will, and not therefore merely a duplication of what happened on the corresponding day a couple of weeks previously. At my age I am not really a late night person, and have not taken drugs since my youth, so I am not sure what to expect.

Despite taking the whole wrap of wicked gear with four cans of Red Bull and playing some ‘kicking’ music, I drift off at around 5 or 6, anyway before daylight.

When I wake up I find myself on the balcony of one of the upper floors of an apartment block in north-eastern China. My associate, Song, and I are filming the spectacular estuary of the Songhua Jiang below for a travelogue for Sky TV. It seems the Chinese authorities are keen to promote tourism in the area. It is a Sunday morning and from our high vantage point, Song and I can see for miles. It is late August, near the end of the rainy season, and while the rainfall this year has been concentrated mainly in July, much of the flood plain is still underwater. Around the swollen river basin acres of lush green landscape luxuriate. Song points toward a flooded football field to our right, saying that despite the pitch being waterlogged the locals are about to turn out to play.

‘We are used to a bit of water. We have long tradition. Chinese invent football in the Han period over two thousand years ago,’ he says. Is called Cuju. Means to kick a ball.’

I show no surprise. Through classes in Tai Chi, I have developed an interest in Sino culture, and have come to understand that the Chinese invented practically everything from paper and printing to gunpowder and aerial flight, and most advances in science and medicine can be attributed to the Chinese.

Song goes a little deeper into the history of cuju in the region and says that he feels the water football game would look great on film, with a commentary about the history of the game from its Han dynasty roots. I nod my agreement, but in reality I feel distracted.

In a conversation that must be puzzling to Song I establish that it is 1988 – the year before Tianamen Square. I have gone back seventeen years. While I am conscious of my vitality, I have the strange sensation that I am also an observer of my life. I can remember my yesterday quite literally as if it were yesterday but this is seventeen years forward. I am aware of this as I resume the dialogue with Song.

A boat carrying a team decked out in carnival colours chanting something patriotic is coming up the river. It is hot and humid and a dank haze hangs suspended above the water as if waiting for an impressionist painter. The regressing part of me is trying frantically to get a handle on what is happening. According to the log I am keeping to help with later editing of the film, I have been in the Peoples’ Republic for ten days and am scheduled to be there for another ten. I am missing Monique, Sebastian and Promise. Song says that the phone lines will not be down for much longer but I know they will be down until my arrival, so I will be unable to phone home.

Sebastian is six and Promise is five. It will be Promise’s birthday soon. Then she will be four. She will stop going to school. Before long, I will be reading her bedtime stories and taking her to nursery. It is curious to comprehend that my life going backwards means to all intents and purposes that everyone’s life around me is also doing so. I can only experience their past.

Filming in China goes back day-by-day as the day approaches that I arrive on a flight from Heathrow to Beijing. During this time I ponder my situation continually. When Song says, ‘see you tomorrow’, I know I had already seen him tomorrow but I will see him again yesterday.

I contemplate the age-old question as to whether we control our destiny or follow a preordained path. This seems all the more pertinent to my circumstances. Am I just reliving events in a life that I have already experienced or could my new actions or thoughts as a person coming from the future have any effect. And how will I know whether they do?

More immediately I am concerned as to why time for me has gone back seventeen years rather than the more conservative day at a time that I came to accept. I am anxious to avoid such a dramatic leap happening again. The only clue I have is that I’d tried to stay awake at night to find out why time was going backwards.

I begin to become anxious about sleeping, and visit one of the four thousand acupuncturists in Harbin. I also buy various traditional Chinese remedies from a 114 year-old herbalist named Ho Noh at the local market. Not that Ho instills any confidence. He does not look as if he had ever slept. But I am particularly concerned that the flight on which I was to arrive at Beijing comes in at 5am local time. There seems to be no way of rescheduling the flight and reducing the risk of more temporal upheaval.

And indeed there isn’t…. When I become aware of consciousness again I find myself on stage at a Pink Floyd concert. I have some difficulty at first working out the time and place, but conclude that it is The Wall tour around February 1981 and this is one of several concerts at Wesfallenhalle, Dortmund in what was then West Germany. I am a sound engineer, and it appears that the tape loops for The Wall have been mixed up with those from Dark Side of the Moon. I suspect I have programmed something incorrectly into the console. Roger Waters is storming around the stage set with a face like thunder and some of the band stop playing.

Back at the hotel, I have a call from Astrid from the house in Rheims.

‘You seem upset baby,’ she says. ‘Is something not good with you?’

I tell her that I have just been sacked by Pink Floyd management. It seems better than saying I have just been jettisoned through space and time from The People’s Republic of China.

‘Why?’ she asks. ‘They seemed so nice at the party in Paris.’

‘A long story,’ I reply, intensely aware of two different life forces, the present, and the future in reverse. You cnnot expect to have much of a conversation about space-time continuums in an international phonecall to someone, whose first language is not English.

‘You could come down, if you want,’ said Astrid. ‘I have missed you, you know. The only thing is I’ve got Monique staying. Have I ever mentioned my friend, Monique? I’m sure you would like her. She came yesterday.’

It occurs to me that unless I travel the 400 odd kilometres between Dortmund and Rheims by yesterday I will never even meet Monique. It also occurs that I can’t anyway because I have spent yesterday in Dortmund with Pink Floyd. In a devastating flash, having travelled back to before they were even contemplated, I realise I would never see my children again, or for that matter, Monique.

Before The Wall tour starts, or after The Wall tour starts, I spend a month seeing the new year out and the old year in, with Astrid at the house in Rheims. Astrid is a freelance photographer who does shoots for Paris Match and Marie Claire, specialising in quirky subjects like Sumo wrestlers, dwarfs and circus performers. She is successful and works more or less when she chooses to. We make love, morning, afternoon and night, paint, walk along the Vesle, go to galleries, concerts, and French films without subtitles.

During this time I go to see a hypnotherapist and give up not smoking. Almost immediately I find myself getting through a pack of Gitanes a day. It is a revelation to me to discover that one session can change the habits of a lifetime.

With Astrid in Rheims I go with the flow, seize the moment, and try not to think about the disappearing future, about the first time Monique and I saw the Grand Canyon a morning in May, or looking down at The Great Barrier Reef through a glass bottomed boat, walking amongst the mystical stonework of the sun temple of Machu Picchu or watching the spectacular patterns form in the Sossusvlei sand dunes in Namibia, the sun’s refection on the water in the Halong Bay in Vietnam, about Promise’s wedding, or Sebastian getting in to Oxford, sadly just a month before his fatal illness took hold. I do not think of the excitement of my novel being published or the acclaim I received for the first feature film I directed. I certainly do not think of the months in The Jackson Pollock Recovery Home, the job at Don Quixote or about anything else that happened after my breakdown. The future is history. And the future from a normal chronology of events will now never be. I will not have to endure that period of time later in life when those around you are slowly dying off. Those senior years when if you see a friend you haven’t seen for a while, their news will be that someone else had died. Back in the future when I was fifty nine I recall that this had already begun to happen. My parents had died and of course Sebastian had died. Also, in a few short months, my friend Giorgio had died from liver cancer, Jacques had died from a heart attack, and Marianne had died from complications during surgery.

I feel I can live with going back a day at a time, and being aware of what will happen next is not a huge problem. With Astrid, life seems easy. I was twenty six years old and it seems that this is a time for pleasure. Each day the mystery of our attraction unfolds as we know less about each other. An affair lived backwards is very exciting. The fascination increases day by day, the first time you will get a mutual invitation, the first time you will go away together, the first time you will get or buy a present, the first time you will have breakfast together, the first time you will undress one another, working toward that glorious, breathtaking moment when your eyes will first meet, when intuition and desire will form an immaculate, unstoppable, mystical union, that split second when love is heaven-sent.

Astrid becomes Francesca in Barcelona, then Isabella in Rome. In between there is Natalie in New York, and before I know it I am twenty three. These years are wild and exciting but I begin to feel like Dorian Gray, without the immortality. I go to parties with painters and dine with divas. I work on a film with Antonioni and play with Led Zeppelin. Keith Moon crashes my car and Marc Bolan throws up in my jacuzzi. In a wave of hedonism I just soak up all the pleasure that is available, and cannot recall when I last tried to exercise free will. I have gone with the flow, allowing my youth and libido free rein.

Time going backwards is by now the most normal thing in the world to me. Déjà vu has long since become so commonplace that it is now unnoticeable. And that the plot of soap operas and news items if I can be bothered with them unfolds backwards is completely normal. But I am frequently made aware of echoes of a future life. A persistent voice in my head seems to narrate stories concerning an older person, in fact a much older person, someone perhaps in his fifties. The voice is familiar, and comes from within, but while it seems it belongs to me and has some sense of self, at the same time I feels a sense of detachment. I have recollections of having lived through many of the episodes, but they exhibit themselves like false memory. This older person seems to have experienced considerable misfortune, have found his crock of gold early and bit-by-bit, have seen it disappear. As a result of the dispossession he has suffered some kind of nervous collapse. He lives a lonely life, works in inanimate pet care, drives a brown Skoda and listens to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Even if this were to be my own future, it is neither tangible nor attractive. It seems to me that as my life is moving irrevocably in reverse, nothing is to be gained by taking possession of a character surrounded with so much sadness, so the more that it happens, the more I try to block out the voice.

It is often said that when you are young life is a timeless flight, but as you get older time seems to fly by like it had been turned to fast forward. I find that as I grow younger a similar thing is happening. Months fly by; one moment it is August and the next it is April and another summer is gone. Christmases and birthdays are closer together. No sooner am I twenty three than I am twenty two, and then in what seems the blink of an eye, twenty one.

After, or before, an especially profligate drinking session, with a group of Dutch football supporters, in a bar in the red light district of Amsterdam during the World Cup, I make the decision I am going to fundamentally change the way I live. We have consumed bottle after bottle of genever as Holland lose to West Germany. We continue our drinking into the night, inconsolable that Johann Cruyff, despite being the finest footballer in the world, will never lift the trophy.

The binge is just the last in a long line of testimonies to guileless self-deprecation. I am unhappy with myself. I have begun to feel that my youthful comportment is frivolous and empty. My behaviour is inconsiderate and hurtful, and I despise the person I am becoming – or have been. I frequently catch myself saying really immature things, and acting badly towards those around me.

What brings matters to a head is a chance meeting at Amsterdam bus station with Faith, a friend of my mother’s. Faith is dressed in a miscellany of chiffon wraps, scarves, bead chokers and jangly jewellery. She carries a tote bag with a yantric design on it, and has rainbow coloured braids in her hair. Faith greets me with a warm hug, which brings with it an assault of patchouli.

‘What are you doing here?’ she says. ‘Where are you going?’

‘I’m not sure where I’m going,’ I say. ‘Because it seems to be more a case of where have I been.’

In that moment I have a profound sensation of being disengaged from time.

In the 1960s both Faith and my mother will live on the fringes of a bohemian lifestyle. My father, a man ensconced in the decorum of the professions, will not. He will go to the races and Rotary Club dinners, while my mother and Faith will metaphorically burn their bras and go on demonstrations. It is not hard to see how they will grow apart and the disagreements and separation that will be the backdrop to my early life will arise.

‘Time present and time past are perhaps present in time future,’ Faith continues. ‘And time future is contained in time past. If all time is eternally present all time is unredeemable.’

‘Where does that come from?’ I ask.

‘Those are the opening lines from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets,’ she replies, looking me in the eye. It is an English teacher kind of look. I look away.

When I am younger my mother will try to educate me in poetry, but I will prefer The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. I will get an appallingly bad grade in English by reading none of the books. My father will not notice because I am too unimportant to be of any significance.

‘But, if you do not know where you are going, you should not be at the bus station. Why don’t you come and have some lunch with me?’ says Faith. ‘I live in Haarlem.’

The bus arrives and we take it. Haarlem is just a few miles. I open up to Faith. I explain I haven’t seen mother since I was twenty six and then only briefly. She looks puzzled so I tried to explain a little of my predicament.

She quotes T. S. Eliot at me once again.

‘We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.’

I began to wonder if T. S. Eliot might have shared my sequential dysfunction.

On the journey, Faith tells me about the community in which she lives, all the time emphasising how happy she is. The community, she says, support one another, share everything, and work together towards a common aim. It seems idealistic, naive even, but I can see that Faith appears to be happy and feels she has found what she is looking for. Her view of life seems to be in marked contrast with my own.

We arrive at Haarlem. A lengthy explanation about eastern philosophy, and the middle way sees us outside Faith’s house.

‘BEWARE OF THE GOD,’ says the sign on the front gate.

‘Which God?’ I ask.

‘It does not matter,’ she replies. ‘How about a retriever?’

I do not go in. I say my goodbyes. I know what I have to do.

If I can do nothing about life in reverse, it is time to take a step back and try to get in touch with my spirituality. I take a bus to Athens and from there a boat to Santorini, a small Greek island, where there is a meditation centre. I suppose I hope to discover the meaning of life.

I come round in the playground of The Frank Portrait Primary School. I am wearing short grey trousers, grey flannel shirt and a blue blazer. I am fighting with a boy called Jon Keating. No, wait, I AM Jon Keating. ‘Keating needs a beating,’ they are chanting, this swathe of little grey monsters. ‘Keating needs a beating.’ Oh shit!

I am going to ask Dr Self to take me off Paradoxin. Before he went on holiday, he did stress it was an experimental drug and there was the possibility that there might be undocumented side effects.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Sven of Halmstad

sven3

Sven of Halmstad by Chris Green

Church attendance had been dropping for years. In the age of science and discovery, it seemed no one was able to swallow the fantastic tales of strife and salvation in the middle east as the basis for their belief. Stories like this might be OK for a fantasy novel, but not as the central creed for a major religion. Miracles about rising from the dead and walking on water did not fit well into rational twenty-first century thinking. As the result of several emergency meetings of the General Synod of the Anglican Church, it was agreed that the Bible itself needed a refresh. As it was a major doctrinal issue, there was resistance within the group, but the decision was eventually made to appoint someone to rewrite the Holy book.

Tom Golfer had little published work, but decided to apply for the post anyway. He was astonished when he was selected for interview. He had expected the shortlist to be made up of serious doctrinal scholars. At the interview, in front of a panel of priests in colourful clerical clothing, he put forward some radical, even frivolous ideas. Much to his surprise radical thinking seemed to be what many of the Synod were looking for. Many of the stories in the great book were tired and redundant, they told him. It needed a new approach if people were to be drawn back into the flock. Tom pointed out that this in itself was a tired metaphor. Apart from a faction led by The Bishop of Bridgewater and The Bishop of Brighton and Hove, two notorious reactionaries, the Synod agreed that metaphors were one of the Bible’s major drawbacks. Interpretations of some of the big stories in the book had been a problem over the years. The story needed a more realist approach.

Tom was completely overwhelmed when he was appointed. Just think, his girlfriend Natalie said, when he told her the news in the massage parlour that night, The Holy Bible by Tom Golfer. Modest as he was, Tom tried to play this down.

‘It’s only the Church of England’s version,’ he said. ‘I can’t see the Catholics going for it. It was only recently they decided to drop the Latin version. And it will be a definite no-no to the Orthodox Church.’

‘But, it’s a start,’ said Natalie. ‘They might get you on one or two of the hymns as well.’

‘Perhaps I could drop in Stairway to Heaven,’ said Tom.

‘Or Heaven is a Place on Earth,’ said Natalie, continuing with her deep tissue massage.

‘One step at a time, I think,’ said Tom, turning over to give her access to some bits she had missed. ‘I’ve got to rewrite the Bible first. It’s quite a big book, you know.’

‘Then you should make it smaller,’ said Natalie.

‘You know what? I think I will,’ said Tom.

Tom set about the task with gusto. He jettisoned the Old Testament completely. All thirty-nine books were anachronistic. Darwin had all but seen off the Creation myth. It was now hanging by a thread, believed only by a handful of desperate die-hards. The books from Exodus onwards were at best an unreliable chronicle of a small part of the world. Even the more engaging stories of Moses, Jonah and Job had no relevance to people with no interest in Jewish history. The interminable scuffles in the Middle East in the present day were putting more people off the faith by the minute. No one wanted to read any more stories about the troubled region than the ones that they were fed daily on the news.

The idea behind the new Bible would be to show a good person living a good life and passing on wisdom of how people could get along with one another and share. There would be no place for war and suffering in the narrative, so Tom decided to move the action to Scandinavia, a relatively peaceful part of the world. He replaced Jesus of Nazareth with Sven of Halmstad. A majority of the Synod had agreed with him that the virgin birth was a big stumbling block to credence of the New Testament. So, Sven of Halmstad was, in the words of the hymn, begotten not created. Tom, however allowed God no part in his begetting. Sven’s parents were Axel and Alva Jorgenson. Both of them were lumberjacks. Sven, like Jesus, was a carpenter. He made log cabins and stylish furniture for the poor at very reasonable prices. Sometimes, if a particular family was in extreme need, he would build them a home and furnish it for nothing. In his spare time, he helped out at a hospital, one of the very first hospitals in fact. He also ran a small rescue centre for animals.

Sven had an outgoing personality and got along well with everyone he met. He had a natural talent for communication and spent hours giving speeches in the town square in Halmstad. He rallied against the iniquities of the political system of the time. He spoke against the idea of fighting and about the benefits of helping others. He talked about respect for all living things and the importance of being in harmony with mother earth.

‘Where there is love there is life,’ he was fond of saying.

And ‘the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’

‘Anger and intolerance are the enemies of understanding’.

His maxims and aphorisms were easy for people to understand. They were not hidden behind metaphor. Word about the wisdom of the great man spread rapidly. His speeches drew hundreds of people, all anxious to follow in his footsteps. They came from as far away as Gothenburg and Malmö to listen. One time, a group of merchants came by boat from Copenhagen and inspired by Sven’s speeches vowed to reduce their prices and give all of their profits to worthy causes.

‘For each of our actions there are consequences,’ Sven would say to his audience. ‘You cannot plunder your natural resources. If you cut down a tree to build your house, then you should plant another in its place.’

And, ‘Children are a delight, but you should only have as many children as you are able to look after.’

His plain speaking won people over.

There was a difference of opinion about whether Sven should have a bloodline. Should he be a one-off messiah selflessly eschewing personal relationships for the greater good? Or, in this day and age, would painting him as a loner with no family make him come across as being a bit weird? Tom reasoned that even though he would not be the Son Of God as Jesus had been, the strength of his message alone would be enough to set him up as the saviour. He would be the perfect role model. He would bring about a caring peaceful society. After a few exchanges with the Synod, Tom took the bold step of allowing Sven to be married and have children. His wife Frida would stay in the background quietly doing good works in the community. His children, Björn and Benny would go on to form a musical ensemble writing inspirational madrigals.

To be credible, the new Bible story had to give the impression that it was written long ago. Recently rediscovered perhaps by an eminent Canterbury historian. Tom also needed to create a history of the book to put in the introduction, and explain how it had been superseded by the King James bible. He made it clear that although it did not happen overnight, Sven’s philosophy was established as the preferred viewpoint of the time. People became considerate and kind. They loved their neighbours and did unto others as they would be done by. Whenever there was a hint of trouble or dissent, Sven and his righteous followers managed to overcome it without bloodshed. Within Sven of Halmstad’s lifetime (he lived to be 104) a consensus was thus achieved all over Scandinavia. The word spread over centuries until ruthless reformists replaced it with dissident Christianity in the latter middle ages.

Despite having to accommodate Sven’s longevity, Tom stuck to the plan that the new Bible needed to be shorter than the old one. It had to take account of the reduced attention span of the Internet generation. More people would be likely to read a slim volume than a weighty tome.

‘If you drop it on your foot, it should not leave a bruise,’ he would joke to the Synod when he reported back to them.

Apart from the Bishop of Bridgewater and the Bishop of Brighton and Hove who were trenchant in their views on unwieldy Bibles, the voting members agreed with Tom’s line of reasoning. Some altar Bibles held the potential to be especially damaging to the metatarsals should there be an accident following an indiscretion with the communion wine, they told him. They wanted a handy pocket version that you could pull out when travelling on the tube and an eBible that you could read on your smartphone. Tom explained that his new Bible would also be the right length for a forty-seven minute dramatisation for broadcast on commercial television. The old Bible, Tom had calculated would take twenty-six days, without the adverts. The Creation alone would take six days to broadcast, or seven days with adverts. The costs for the CGI for a production like this would be colossal. Tom didn’t need to convince the Synod on this. They were already sold on the idea. The old Bible was out the window.

‘We need to be able to stop people from channel hopping during the adverts,’ he told the Bishops.

The Bishop of Milton Keynes, one of the more commercially minded of the Anglican clergy felt they would be able to fill the other thirteen minutes with adverts about the new Sven musical on the London stage and a range of Sven merchandise. ‘Just keep the theme going,’ he said. ‘Who do think we should get to play Sven in the movie?’

Tom put the final touches to the new Bible and submitted the draft to the General Synod. It came in at around 30,000 words, slightly shorter longer than Charlie and The Chocolate Factory but shorter than The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. The King James Bible is nearly 800,000 words, much more difficult to slip into the back pocket of your Levi’s. In a last minute display of caution, the Bishops told Tom that they would need a little time to proofread it before publication and think about cover illustrations and the like. Although they were extremely grateful for the tireless work he had done, they confided that he was unlikely to get a byline. The Holy Bible by Tom Golfer might be a step too far. After all, this was a divine work. Tom wondered if the tide of opinion might be turning. He had heard rumours that Bishop of Bridgewater and the Bishop of Brighton and Hove might be winning support for their conservative stance. All along, they had branded his text a work of fiction. He had responded by saying that there was nothing wrong with that, as the old one had been a work of fiction. He wondered whether this flippant comment, from a layman, might have come across as arrogant and sacrilegious. Perhaps he should not have added, ‘a mix of horror, science fiction and the paranormal.’ He could see the hallowed faces drop even as he said it. Were one of two of the moderates now having doubts about publishing a new Bible written by someone from outside of the Church?

Tom didn’t dwell on the thought too much. Thanks to a generous advance, he was able to take an extended break, and Natalie was able to give up work at the massage parlour. He is still awaiting word on the publication of the Tom Golfer Bible. Keep an eye out for news about this and other Sven of Halmstad merchandising and spinoffs, but if you do not hear anything, it could well be that the two Bishops have gained sufficient support in the Synod to scupper the idea. In which case, for your spiritual solace, you may have to listen to tales of the supernatural from ancient Judea at a church near you for some time to come.

Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved

 

 

Bob Marley’s Surfboard

bobmarleysurfboardpic2

Bob Marley’s Surfboard by Chris Green

I hadn’t had Bob Marley down as a surfer. He seemed to belong to the wrong generation, or the wrong ethnic group, or both. Maybe I was showing some prejudice but to me surfing conjured up images of blond hair, VW campers and The Beach Boys. Although I had never been to Jamaica, it was hard to imagine that the government yard in Trench Town Bob grew up in would have offered many opportunities for surfing. Or that the tight security on his punishing touring schedule would have allowed this kind of freedom. It was a surprise therefore when on my daily trawl through the miscellaneous collectibles on ebay I saw Bob Marley’s surfboard advertised.

Before you start thinking that I must have a lot of time to waste, I should point out that I am an avid collector of celebrity memorabilia with a preference for the unusual. I have in my collection Elvis’s drugs cabinet, the harmonica on which John Lennon composed Bungalow Bill and Jimi Hendrix’s kite. And while I do treasure each item I own immensely, l am still in business to make money. I do not go to work in the more conventional sense. I gave up my office job over ten years ago. In order to provide me with an income and stay ahead of the game, I trade in all manner of collectibles, not just celebrity memorabilia. I have a sought after set of stuffed barn owls for instance and in case you are interested a collection of rare frontier telephones. You would be surprised at the curiosities collectors will pay good money for. But if I am honest, my passion is for items owned by famous people.

Collecting celebrity memorabilia is not without an element of risk. Painstaking research is necessary and it sometimes takes a trained eye to confirm that an item is genuine. With Elvis’s medicine cabinet, authentication was relatively easy. It was not the gold EAP monogram, the inlaid rhinestones or the bullet holes that gave it away, but primarily the sheer size of the cabinet. Only someone with Elvis’s huge appetite for prescription drugs could have needed one so large. The shipping cost me nearly as much as the cabinet and then I had to modify the houseboat to get it inside. Quite often there is an element of trust involved, for instance Roy Orbison’s prescription Wayfarers. Had I not bought them on a bona fidé collectors’ site, I would have avoided these. But how could you certify an item as random as Bob Marley’s surfboard?

I had encountered similar problems authenticating Buddy Holly’s yoga mat. Who would have thought that growing up in post war Texas that yoga would have been a significant feature of Buddy’s daily life? Who would have thought that he would have had time for yoga, what with writing hundreds of songs, touring non stop and then dying at the age of twenty two? But a little research showed that Buddy had in fact met beat writer, Jack Kerouac on several occasions and seemed to have picked up a little Eastern philosophy from him. Buddy may well have written Peggy Sue or Raining in my Heart on this very mat.

A few exchanges of emails with the advertiser of the board revealed that he lived in the small village of Rhossili on the Welsh coast. This part of the coast was popular amongst surfers and the seller, who was called Grover, maintained quite simply that he had acquired the item from a fellow surfer who strangely enough was also called Grover. Grover was a common name in those parts he assured me, nearly as common as Delroy or Tupac.

I wondered momentarily what had happened to home-grown names like Rhys and Ifan, but did not dwell on it. There was business to be done.

How did Grover know that it was Bob Marley’s surfboard’, seemed the obvious question so I mailed this enquiry to him.

While he was a little light on verifiable facts, he informed me that surfing was very popular amongst reggae artists and Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs and Prince Fari were all frequent visitors to the Gower peninsula. And Beenie Man was there just last week on the beach with two sistas in tow. If I was interested, he also had a pair of Oakley sunglasses that had once belonged to Big Youth on his ebay auction site and a wetsuit belonging to Althea of Althea and Donna.

I had a look on his other ebay items. There were in fact no bids on either of the items that he had mentioned, nor Burning Spear’s barbecue, or Max Romeo’s snorkel. But with the houseboat absolutely chocca, I was not especially interested in C listers mementos. I had resolved to concentrate my attentions on memorabilia of major celebrities.

Alarmingly though the bidding on Bob Marley’s surfboard had gone up to £1000. Clearly other collectors were after it too. And still two days to go. I needed to make my way down to Rhossili to research first hand before committing myself to what could be a reckless bid on the item.

I browsed the Gower websites and although these were thin on the ground I could not help but feel a little concerned that their photos of surfers revealed a noticeable absence of dreadlocks. Not even a token Rasta. But there were photos of miles and miles of sweeping empty beaches. It seemed plausible that the Jamaican surfers preferred the more private spots where they could light up their spliffs and chalices and that they had managed to avoid being caught on camera. The sites had all stressed the point that The Gower was the country’s best kept secret.

I decided, what the heck! Either way, it didn’t matter. I had had a bit of a windfall having just sold my collection of antique hand held trouser presses and I deserved a nice break by the sea. I hadn’t had a holiday since Rosie had left last year. I don’t think Rosie had the same enthusiasm for living on a houseboat that I did. She wanted a summer house and a fitted kitchen and somewhere to hang her dresses. I heard from Geoff that she is now living in Reading with someone who directs television commercials. All water under the bridge.

Looking at the map Rhossili was not all that far away, perhaps a hundred and fifty miles, and the Volvo needed a good run. To be honest it probably needed a proper service but this could wait until I got back. I packed a few clothes in a bag, the laptop, a few cans of Red Bull and some crunchy nut chocolate bars for the journey and set off. It was mid morning and the weather forecast for the rest of the day was good. I stopped off at Blockbuster to take back my overdue DVDs and the pharmacy to pick up my tablets.

I bumped into Downbeat Don outside the newsagents. He asked me if I was still interested in buying his collection of cork lined bottle caps. He reminded me that it included some rare Old Milwaukee and Coors from the 1930s, some unusual Guinness ones and some original Sprite and Coca Cola.

Over three hundred of them altogether,’ he added.

I was not really sure I needed more bottle tops, but I was too polite to give Downbeat the brush off. He took offence quite easily.

Why don’t you advertise them on ebay, I asked?

I was waiting to see if you wanted them first,’ he said. He had that hangdog look about him.

I was anxious to avoid a long conversation. Something awful was bound to have happened to him lately and he was just waiting for the right opening to tell me all about it. I told him I was off for a few days and that I would be in touch when I got back.

I drove down the M5 towards the M4, a route I had taken many years before, when I was beginning my career in collectibles. On that occasion I had bought Eddie Cochran’s wristwatch from an auction in Chipping Sodbury. My intention had been to buy Brian Jones’s alarm clock, but I had been outbid. This was around the time that Stacey had moved out, saying that I was obsessed with dead pop stars and that there was so must junk around the flat that there was no room for her and the children. I had argued of course that none of it was junk and I was certainly not obsessed and anyway not all of the pop stars were dead. For instance David Bowie, whose stylophone I had just bought, was not dead. Nor were Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich as far as I knew. And where would we be without their tea towels.

I had missed the children very much at first, especially Simon who was the elder of the two. He was the one most affected by Stacey and I splitting up. Garfunkel, of course had been too young to realise what was going on, although we have kept up a relationship and he does still come to see me occasionally on the houseboat.

I like to listen to Radio 4 when I’m driving. It’s not that I don’t like music. Quite the reverse. I play music all the time on the boat and have a wide and varied taste. A collection from A to Z. Well not Abba obviously. Or ZZ Top. Music from B to Y then. Although I can’t remember when I last played anything by Yes. The traffic was not heavy and I settled down to listen to the play, a dramatisation of Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds. Different from the Hitchcock film, which was set in California, it was set in Cornwall, one cold winter after the Second World War. Disabled farmhand, Nat wanted nothing more from life than to be allowed to eat his pasties in peace. But the jackdaws and gulls, the finches and larks, even the tits and wrens had other ideas and, having killed some locals, lay siege to Nat’s farm cottage trapping him and his family. Listening to radio broadcasts on the then equivalent of Radio 4 Nat discovered that all over the country birds were replicating the attacks and a national emergency was declared. The play ended rather enigmatically, just as I was crossing the Severn Bridge, leaving me wondering what it was that Daphne Du Maurier was really trying to say.

I became distracted by the Glamorgan welcomes Careful Drivers roadsign The sign had its equivalent in Welsh and displayed a silhouette of the profile a dreadlocked Rasta with a bloody great spliff in his mouth, which to me failed wholeheartedly to illustrate the point about driving carefully. As did the billboards advertising Red Stripe, the hooray beer, that lined the road at strategic vantage points. The ads showed four scantily clad Caribbean babes driving along a sand track lined with coconut palms in a stripped down landrover raising cans of Red Stripe in the air. The tagline was Stir it Up. What on earth was going on in South Wales?

I managed to catch the beginning of The Archers (a new outbreak of bovine viral diarrhoea in Ambridge) before I lost Radio 4 completely. I tried scanning the radio for another station to listen to but all I could pick up was a station playing Dennis Brown’s Money in My Pocket, which I had to admit sounded pretty good. The tune finished and an animated DJ started gibbering away in Welsh, with a marked trace of patois, or perhaps it was patois with hint of Welsh. I picked up ‘riddim, niceup, herb, collie, rasclaat, irie and jah’. He followed this by cueing in Night Nurse by da cool rula, Gregory Isaacs. ‘Dis Niceup Radio,’ he interrupted just as the vocal came in.

As an admirer of landmark sculpture I had long been impressed by The Angel of the North and The Wicker Man, but the figure of Haile Sellasie by the side of the A483 put them to shame. It was truly spectacular; it must have been two hundred feet high. Haile had, you may be aware, been lionised by Rastafarians in the 1970s through reggae music along with their worship of him using cannabis as a sacred herb which they believed brought them closer to him. I had to remind myself that this was 2014 and we were in South Wales, a place not renowned for embracing new cultural ideas. What I was witnessing suggested a major Jamaican influence in these parts, adding considerable credence to Grover’s claims. Which was good? Wasn’t it?

I tried to conjure up the picture of a Welsh male voice choir singing Exodus, Movement of Jah People, which was now playing on the radio. Or indeed Shaggy tackling Men of Harlech. The DJ came back on. ‘An a jus lass nite mi dideh. No one cyaan test Shabba.’ I could pick out the odd word but that was all. I almost hit something coming the other way; I needed to put my concentration on the narrow windy roads and maybe avoid crashing the Volvo. Since Abertawe (Swansea) navigation had been a nightmare as the place names and road signs were no longer displayed in English, just Welsh, their legibility was further impaired by being on a background of red, gold and green, with what I imagined to be the conquering lion of Judah alongside the Welsh dragon. Even the speed camera I had just passed was red, gold and green. The Gower was living up to being the country’s best kept secret.

Given the circumstances it was quite easy to get lost and after several miles without a sign of life I considered that this was indeed the position. To add to the predicament, the Volvo, which had been behaving remarkably well of late, became a little hesitant. After a few hundred yards of juddering along the dirt road it stopped completely. I recognised the symptoms. I remembered the same thing had happened when I was on my way to pick up Buddy Holly’s yoga mat in Romford. This was not a mechanical problem; the bloody thing was out of fuel. I had passed a filling station just after Cardiff but there was a long queue. There hadn’t been another one. Sooner or later, even on a track like the one I was on, a motorist would be along. I’d flag him down and get him to give me a lift to the nearest filling station. This would represent the optimistic view.

It could be however that I was naturally pessimistic, as I hadn’t even thought to try the phone. I had assumed that being in this remote corner of South Wales that there would be no signal. This was what numerous accounts over the years had led you to believe. One of the main reasons people came here was to avoid being contacted. But after twenty minutes of free-fall meditation lying on Dusty Springfield’s air bed in the back of the Volvo to calm myself, there was still no sign of the cavalry. I felt the Motorola was worth a shot. Remarkably there was a signal.

I went through the identification with the AA centre and everything seemed to be going smoothly with Loretta until she asked, ‘what is your position?’

I had to admit that beyond it being somewhere in South Wales, I had absolutely no idea.

I also had difficulty with the question, ‘what was the last place you passed through?’ I explained about the roadsign being in red gold and green.

That will be The Gower. They’re all like that in The Gower. But we’re looking at quite a large area. Can you see any landmarks’, asked Loretta?

There were fields and hedges and a field of tall leafy plants in the distance. I had the feeling this was not the precision Loretta was looking for.

When ‘I think I’m about twenty miles from a large roadside sculpture of Haile Sellasie’ drew a negative response, I suggested she might be able to use the global positioning information from my mobile phone.

Her ‘we’re the AA not International Rescue’ was I felt unnecessarily sarcastic.

With the conversation with Loretta going nowhere it was fortuitous that Delroy should choose this moment to appear out of nowhere. I had not heard him arrive; suddenly he was standing there in front of me. At around six foot six and built like a Russian war memorial, Delroy cut an impressive figure. With locks nearly down to his waist and an alligator grin he offered his hand and introduced himself. I pretended not to notice that his ring finger was missing. I asked instead where his car was. Delroy laughed and added that he lived nearby, pointing beyond the field of tall leafy plants that I suddenly realised were cannabis plants. This probably explained why he was carrying an AK47.

He did not point the gun at me; it was more of a sartorial accessory to his camouflage gear than anything else. He seemed to sense that I posed no threat. After all I did not look like a policeman or a gangster. And of course there was a beaten up twenty year old Volvo, with 250,000 miles on the clock, that might have helped him to arrive at his judgement. It was very much a ‘this man is harmless sort of car’. Nevertheless had I been guarding a colossal cannabis plantation I might have been less accommodating, but as it was Delroy was quite open. I explained that I had run out of diesel. He laughed out loud again. When he laughed his whole body moved and contorted as if he was performing a hip hop dance. Once he had settled, he said, roughly translated, no problem a friend of his named Tupac had a farm where we could get some red diesel. I thanked him and we stuck up a conversation about The Gower and I explained how easy it had been to get lost. Delroy laughed again and told me he knew why I had come, and that he knew Grover who was selling Bob Marley’s surfboard.

What are the odds against that? I said. Even given the fortuity of our meeting I would have had this down as a bit of a long-shot with there being so many Delroys and Grovers in the locality. We were talking serious tight knit community here.

Ain’t no odds mon, is Jah,’ he replied. ‘im know you come so I is ‘ere to mek ting ting so.’

He phoned Tupac on his mobile and although the phone conversation lapsed into a more rootsy patois, making it more difficult to follow, the jist of it seemed to be that Tupac was going to bring the diesel over and that we just had to stay put. There was also some discussion about Charley who might or might not be on his way.

What happened next is a little hazy. I expect you are familiar with the precept of a little memory loss following a traumatic experience and it was a traumatic experience that was to follow. I recall Delroy starting to tell me a little about the board, pretty much confirming what Grover had told me earlier. It was a two metre single fin pop out board and it was red, gold and green and had the conquering lion of Judah painted along it with the words Jah Rastafari melting over the tip. Delroy added a little biography. Bob had originally been given the board by a blind Australian aboriginal in recognition of his contribution to the cause of black emancipation, a gift for all that Bob had done to ensure that black people everywhere should no longer have to endure the fiery cross of the oppressor. Bob was deeply honoured and wrote a song in gratitude called Righteous Surfer. It had never been released. No-one knew if Bob had ever used the board.

I think Delroy was about to tell me how it had made its way to South Wales and why if it were so important a symbol of struggle Grover was selling it, when Tupac came along in a heavily customised Suzuki jeep with a can of diesel. They carried on talking about Charley and the rocks he was bringing on his rebel boat. They seemed concerned about ‘bag a wire’ and ‘the babylon’. As I say it is all a bit hazy, like trying to piece together the plot of a film you saw years ago. I can remember filling up the Volvo. The fumes made me feel nauseous. Delroy and Tupac began laughing and joking about my technique. Suddenly there was an air of unease. Tupac’s phone rang or perhaps it was Delroy’s. It was a very short call. It was one of those situations where you feel instinctively that something is wrong.

The police helicopters may not have arrived straight away but when they did it was like a military invasion. I don’t know exactly how many helicopters there were but the expression shock and awe sprang to mind. There followed a mad scramble and an overkill of flashing blue lights and sirens as armoured vehicles arrived from all directions. Two of the vehicles collided sending a blanket of flame into the air. Shots rang out. I think Delroy caught one in the chest. Clouds of thick black smoke from the burning vehicles added to the battlefield effect. Delroy and Tupac may or may not have got into the jeep. In the confusion they may even have got away. Everyone seemed to be ignoring me so I dived into the Volvo and drove in the direction I had came with my foot firm to the floor. I have no recollection of a police chase so I imagine that they were not concerned about catching up with me. I gave up on my mission there and then.

I kept my eye on the television news for the next few days and bought a selection of the broadsheets and even the South Wales Evening Post but there was no mention of the incident. About two weeks later, just as I was reducing the dosage of valium and getting my life back to normal, I received an email saying ‘an ebay item you were watching has been relisted: Bob Marley’s Surfboard’. I deleted it.

I have not been back to the Gower since. Last week I bumped into Errol and Cheryl, two friends from years ago. They said they had just got back from a lovely week in The Gower. I asked them what they thought of the sculpture of Haile Sellasie, by the side of the road. They were bound to have seen it. They would have had to drive along the A483. They both looked at me blankly.

‘Were there any surprises?’ I asked, not wanting to put words into their mouths. I expected they would mention the hordes of Rastafarian surfers.

‘It was pretty much how the brochures described it,’ said Errol.

‘Miles of lovely sandy beaches,’ said Cheryl.

‘Totally unspoiled,’ said Errol.

‘The country’s best kept secret,’ said Cheryl.

‘Even had good phone reception,’ laughed Errol.

‘What about radio reception?’ I asked, seizing the opportunity.

‘Funny you should mention that,’ said Errol. ‘Coming back earlier on we were listening to Radio 4 in the car and there was an interesting discussion about the madness that can be caused by the obsessive collection of celebrity memorabilia.’

‘Who would really pay thousands for Marilyn Monroe’s chest x rays or Michael Jackson’s codpiece?’ said Cheryl.

‘One guy collected Frank Sinatra’s toupees. He had about a dozen of them,’ said Errol.

‘You wouldn’t believe the lengths these people go to,’ said Cheryl.

‘Anyway, we haven’t seen you in years, said Errol. What are you doing with yourself these days? Are you still in the civil service? How’s Rosie?’

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved

2015 – An Odd Space Essay

2015anoddspaceessay2

2015 – An Odd Space Essay by Chris Green

I will be 119 next birthday. In my lifetime, I have seen the birth of the motor car, the aeroplane, radio and television, domestic power, antibiotics, the gramophone record and sliced bread. Let us not forget the vacuum cleaner, the ballpoint pen, the electric guitar, the microwave oven and the atomic bomb. I have seen the acceptance of Darwinism, the rise of secularism, the collapse of Empire and the provision of the welfare state. Oil and petrochemicals have become crucial resources to human civilisation and transformed the balance of power the world over. Oil, of course, is running out. The peak of oil discoveries was in 1965, and oil production per year has surpassed oil discoveries every year since 1980. One day soon we are going to have a lot of disappointed people. Should we perhaps feel a little guilt about our perfunctory waste and our accumulation of air miles?

When I was born, Queen Victoria was on the throne, most families did not have a bathroom, there was horse-muck on the streets, and in cities, gas street-lights cut through the ubiquitous smog. In the countryside though you could walk for miles in awe of the bucolic splendour. I have seen the landscape change out of all recognition with the green and pleasant land losing out to electricity pylons, motorways, and suburban sprawl. Communication in all forms has been revolutionised. When I was born we had the penny post and the Daily Mail. Now twenty-four hour television, mobile phones, and wi-fi are all things we take for granted. The population of the UK back then was around 29 million. Today it is 64 million. People are living longer. I feel I am not helping.

In life, things change gradually. Except in the case of monumental events, like an epiphany or a catastrophe, you are not aware of it. The changes are so subtle that you do not notice from moment to moment, day to day. Age creeps up on you with clandestine stealth, as months, years and decades slide inexorably by. You can perhaps only measure change through a succession of befores and afters. Even then, time acts as an unreliable witness, leaving you unsure of precise chronology. But this could be something particular to my circumstances; I have lived rather a long time. I have been married four times, to Ruth, Natalie, Marielle and Sakura. For the record, I have to my knowledge twenty two great-great-grandchildren and twenty eight great-great-great-grandchildren, and, no, I cannot remember all of their names.

Music means literally ‘art of the muses’. It goes back a long way. Ancient Greek philosophers understood the healing effects that music has on the body and soul. Rhythm and harmony represent a universal language; rhythm the heartbeat, the voice the song. Music has been my inspiration. Through my vocation as a composer and musical coach of some regard, I have had the great fortune to meet many of the people who saw through some of the historic changes over the last hundred years or so.

Not many people know that David Lloyd George was a keen saxophonist. This does not appear in any of the numerous biographies of this most idiosyncratic of British Prime Ministers. The biographers concentrate disproportionately on his political career, with a nod here and there to his Welshness (English was his second language). Not a mention of his musical interests. It was, in fact, I who taught the Welsh Wizard the saxophone, which was at the time a marginal instrument even in jazz orchestras. Lloyd George possessed a natural ability, and could have easily mastered the clarinet, but with maverick zeal, he was determined that he preferred the saxophone. He saw himself as a trailblazer. He bought one of the first Selmer Modele 22, saxophones to come to the UK, and guested in jazz ensembles which, although there are no records of this, played at dance halls in the Manchester area.

‘Why did we have to fight the war?’ I asked him one day. I had spent a majority of WW1 in Italy with a military band, fortunately well south of the front.

‘I will tell you why,’ he said. ‘Because Germany expected to find a lamb and found a lion.’

‘No question of sitting around the table and discussing things first then?’ I asked.

‘ Diplomats were invented simply to waste time,’ was his response.

This did not seem like a Liberal view, but I let it go.

Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi never really mastered the blues harmonica, but on a visit to London in 1931, he came to me for some tuition. Musicians at the time had started experimenting with new techniques such as tongue-blocking, hand effects and the most important innovation of all, the second position, or cross-harp. Mohandas felt the harmonica was an instrument associated with the poor, and being able to play it to the starving masses back home would lend support to his great mission.

‘History would turn out for the better if our leaders learned that most disputes can be resolved by a willingness to understand the issues of our opponents and by using diplomacy and compassion,’ Mohandas said to me.

‘It is a shame that history has the habit of repeating itself,’ I said.

Mohandas thought this a negative view to take and was optimistic that a new type of common sense would eventually emerge if you kept plugging away.

‘We must become the change we want to see,’ he said.

Mahatma’s teachings were something that stayed with me through the years of conflict that lay ahead. He was only four foot nine but he was a huge and inspirational man. I can still picture him, sitting in the lotus position, his bony fingers clenching his Hohner, blowing for all he was worth. I would have loved him to have been able to play Hoochie Coochie Man properly on the harp, but sadly he had to leave to catch his boat back to India for an important fast.

The 1930s are associated with the Depression, but I look back on the decade as a happy time. I married my first wife, Ruth, and my first two children, Darius and Conchita, were growing up. I enjoyed a modicum of success with my work, completing an octet and a jazz concerto. We moved to Pimlico, which then was up and coming. It was a great shame to see the clouds of war gathering at such a positive time, but politicians the world over are a stubborn breed.

World War 2 may never have happened if Churchill has been better at playing the piano. Although he showed some initial promise when he came to me and I took him through a few easy pieces, some early Mozart sonatas and the like, his interpretations of Chopin, however, were clumsy and heavy handed. Winston had what are sometimes referred to as butcher’s fingers, not suited to deliver the delicate passages of the Preludes and Nocturnes. He seemed also to display a disdain for the instrument in the fortissimo passages. On the occasions, I tried to explain this to him he usually stormed off in a huff. He did not take criticism well. His famous Hush over Europe speech in August 1938 came right after I told him that he played Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations with all the subtlety of a tank commander. He growled something unintelligible at me, finished his Remy Martin and went straight off to the House of Commons. Had he been able to control these rages, he may have backed off a little on his warmongering. While we may now all be speaking German, Winston may have gracefully embraced retirement with his Steinway and his watercolours.

‘How did you come into music?’ Orson Welles asked me once when he was driving me home after his zither lesson. ‘Do your family have a musical tradition?’ The year was 1948. Alfred Hitchcock had put Orson on to me. I had taught Hitchcock to play the theremin. To be honest, Hitchcock did not really want to learn but thought he might be able to use the unusual instrument in one of his films. Orson, on the other hand, became a bit of a virtuoso on the zither. I heard a rumour that it may even have been Orson and not Anton Karas who played the soundtrack music for The Third Man, which went on to me one of the most successful films of all time.

I did not often talk about my background. It was not that I was particularly ashamed of my humble beginnings, but somehow I felt it destroyed the mystique. I tried to dodge the question by talking instead about my early musical influences, but Orson had a persuasive way about him.

‘Are you going to answer my question, god-dammit,’ he said.

‘I come from a railway family,’ I told him. ‘Both my father and my grandfather worked on the railways. I came into music entirely by accident. I started playing when I was three on a penny whistle that was left in a railway carriage. It had probably belonged to a travelling navvy. I’m entirely self-taught.’

I explained that I quickly found out I was able to play any musical instrument I picked up. It was like opening a box of chocolates and finding all soft centres. I had what my music teacher at Frank Portrait Infants’ School, Miss Schnabel, called a precocious talent. I learned to read music before I could read my Jolly Animal ABC.

I got to know Orson quite well; in fact it was through Orson that I met my second wife, Natalie. Natalie was a nutritionist and had been treating Orson for his recurring obesity. Orson was a large man in every sense and, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying, obsessed with his weight. He had flown Natalie in from America to keep an eye on his constitution while he was looking for some film locations in the UK.

Natalie introduced me to the benefits of wholegrain cereal, bee pollen, goji berries and noni juice, all of which I have retained in my diet ever since, and are among the things to which I can attribute my longevity, along with a positive attitude to life, regular exercise and an active sex life. I subscribed to my friend Pablo Picasso’s philosophy that a young partner helped to keep you young. Natalie made me feel like a teenager again. She was nearly thirty years my junior. I was fifty three and she was twenty five. Our extended honeymoon took advantage of the opportunities opening up in air travel and took in all six continents. We were stunned by many unforgettable sights; the multicoloured reefs and cays of The Great Barrier Reef, the decorative gilding and marble sculptures of The Golden Temple of Amritsar, the mysterious city of Machu Picchu in the middle of a mountain rain forest, the boat ride through The Blue Grotto Cave in Capri, the summer sun setting on The Grand Canyon, and the great migration of gazelles and wildebeests sweeping across the Serengeti plain in the early morning, to name but a few. But there were less obvious sights that were equally as pleasing. The colourful paddle steamer chugging down the Orinoco, the silhouette of a camel train crossing the Arabian desert, the reflection of the houseboats on the Dal Lake in Kashmir on a Spring evening. Yes, the air miles were clocking up a little, but young love knew no bounds.

Natalie, although she was always modest about this, was also an accomplished pianist. With a youthful ear, she was an inspiration to my music, helping to take it in new directions. The early to mid-fifties represented a productive period; in fact, possibly I was at my creative peak, as my compositions began to incorporate dissonance and atonality. In a few short years, I wrote a concerto for orchestra using a small orchestra as a solo instrument against a larger orchestra, a quintet (four cellos and a flute), a jazz ballet, and a tone poem based on The Seventh Seal. I may not have become a household name, but all of these unusual pieces were well received. Miranda Miercoles, Melody Maker’s classical music critic, not one that one associates with praise of any sort, referred to my work at the time as, ‘intuitive’ and ‘groundbreaking’. I framed the clipping.

Natalie persuaded me that we should spend some time in America and, as she was from New York, that we buy somewhere in the city. Money was coming in steadily, and we were able to buy a comfortable apartment in Manhattan, on The Upper East Side, close to Central Park. We were within strolling distance of the museums and galleries that were beginning to prosper and the jazz clubs on 52nd Street. One day, while I was in the apartment tinkling away on the ivories, I had a call from an illustrator for a magazine. He drew whimsical sketches of shoes, he told me. He wanted to learn how to orchestrate and had been given my name, I presume by Orson, as I did not know many people in New York at the time. I explained to my illustrator that orchestration had guidelines, but there weren’t any rules as such. You learned orchestration mainly through experience, through spontaneous discoveries, and through the teaching of great composers.

‘It’s very much a hands-on art,’ I said. ‘You have to be aware of point and counterpoint and of the families of instruments, timbres of each instrument in the family, and of course, tonality, but beyond that it is up to the individual.’

‘Good!’ he said. ‘That’s uh what I wanted to hear. It should be easy then.’

‘You mean like major for happy and minor for sad,’ I quipped.

‘Uh yes,’ he said. ‘Exactly.’ He seemed perfectly serious about this being the case.

‘I’m not sure orchestration’s something I can teach you,’ I said. ‘What was it that you had in mind to orchestrate?’

‘I have a big plan,’ he said. ‘They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. That’s uh, what I’m going to do.’

‘Well, we can’t do it over the phone, can we?’ I said. ‘You’d better come on over.’

The figure across the threshold had a ghost-like quality. he seemed to be there and not there at the same time. He wore a white suit and a blue and white hooped Breton sweater. His tortoiseshell dark glasses and platinum blond hair made him look a little effeminate. My first impression, as he limply shook my hand, was that he was incredibly shy, but despite this shyness he had astounding charisma. ‘Hi, I’m Andy,’ he said. ‘Andy Warhol.’

I invited him in and sat him down.

‘I’m going to be famous one day,’ he said, deadpan.

‘How do you know?’ I asked.

‘In the future everyone will be famous,’ he laughed.

‘What? For fifteen minutes?’ I joked.

I found that Andy’s philosophy interesting and some of the things he said had yet more resonance in retrospect.

We finally moved on to the subject of orchestration. I told him that in terms of musical composition Mozart and Beethoven were probably a good place to start. Mozart for his precision and flow and Beethoven for his bold innovations.

Andy felt it might be better to start with Debussy and Ravel because they were more contemporary and therefore it would not take so long to learn.

‘You need to be able to put an idea on one side of Letter paper,’ he explained.

I asked if he had met the minimalist composer, John Cage. 4’33 consists of the pianist going to the piano, and not hitting any keys for four minutes and thirty-three seconds,’ I told him.

‘Cool!’ he said.

We spent the next session putting together a bullet point list and the one after that at Boosey and Hawkes music store where Andy bought a selection of instruments. He showed no interest at all in playing them; I think they were peripheral to his mission. What he wanted to orchestrate was an Art Movement.

‘What is it that inspires you?’ Julie Christie asked me at her balalaika lesson one day. We were in my apartment in Cheyne Walk, overlooking the Thames. She had recently finished filming Darling and was reading the script for Doctor Zhivago, wondering whether to take the part of Lara that the great David Lean had offered her. She had been round to my apartment every day for a week or so to learn the balalaika to help with the role. Most days it seemed the balalaika I had borrowed from the Russian embassy lay untouched. Julie was sensual and intelligent. She possessed a luminous beauty that the cameras loved. The thing is, she was even more stunning in the flesh. She looked sensational in her skimpy chiffon dress. Despite an age difference of forty years, there was definitely a mutual attraction. I wondered if we were going to have an affair. It had been over with Natalie for a while and I had returned to England leaving her and our son, Melchior, and daughter, Melusine, in New York.

‘I hear music in the flow of the river, the rain on the window, the clinking of glasses, the hum of late night traffic.’ I said. ‘I hear music in everything, in the everyday and that is what sustains me. I have a tune in my head the whole day long.’

‘Play me your favourite piece of music,’ said Julie.

I had lots of favourite pieces of music. I had always dreaded being asked to go on Desert Island Discs as I would be hard pressed to make these kind of decisions. What I wondered could I play for Julie? The great violin concertos of the nineteenth century were out of the question, as clearly they needed an orchestra. I could have picked some Bach or some Mozart, but I thought that Julie was hoping for something more contemporary. Bill Evans My Foolish Heart seemed apt. Jazz had been a passion of mine for many tears.

Popular music upped its game in the 1960s, with record producers like Phil Spector, George Martin and Brian Wilson pushing back the boundaries of the art. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan among others were spearheading a huge social change through pop music. What had once seemed trite now seemed important and vital. By 1965 through music and fashion, London had established itself as the capital of the cultural world. Pop stars, models and photographers were becoming the new elite. Ray Davies was a friend of Julie’s and Julie invited me along to a performance The Kinks were filming at Twickenham Film Studios. It was here that I met Marielle, who would be my partner for the next fifteen years.

Marielle was involved with the music business in an anonymous kind of way, the closest I could come to describing this would be, musical muse. She hung around gatherings of musicians and had a mystical presence. She was a polished player with a rare appreciation of the avant-garde. She was someone you noticed; someone who stood out in a room. She was beautiful; with her deep and lustrous eyes and long dark flowing hair, she looked like a Greek siren, without of course the wings. She was twenty one.

Marielle moved in with me right away. For the next year or two, we played host to the pop world at Cheyne Walk, as young musicians dropped by to learn exotic new instruments. Brian Jones and George Harrison were regular visitors, as were some young lads up from Cambridge who called themselves Pink Floyd. I like to think that in a modest way we changed the direction of rock music. It moved away from the established format of two guitars, bass and drums. I appeared, uncredited, on many of the classic albums from that period including Aftermath, Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Sergeant Pepper, playing dulcimer, tsabouna, musical saw and serpent. I also composed my Vibraphone Concerto and my famous Trio for Violin, Saxophone and Strimmer during this time.

The ten years from around 1967 that Marielle and I spent living on Lanzarote I count among the happiest of my life. Undeveloped at the time and certainly minimalist in its colour palette, Lanzarote offered a perfect spiritual retreat. It was a place that the mind was able to focus. Our traditional whitewashed casa rural was in an isolated setting, a few miles from the present day resort of Costa Teguise. The artist and architect, Cesar Manrique, lived nearby and was a frequent visitor. His project was to transform the desert landscape, harmonising his vibrant modern design with the traditional architecture and colours of the island. A huge interest in alternative power was developing in the Canaries and through Manrique’s civil engineering team we had both solar panels and a wind turbine to deliver power to our house and the surrounding community. We were pioneers. Why not? Lanzarote is, after all, both windy and sunny. The rest of the world it seems have been slow to follow and is still resisting this somewhat obvious solution to our power needs.

Occasionally our mutual friend, Picasso came over from the mainland to see us. Other than this, Darius and Conchita and their respective families came over a few times (grandchildren growing in number and it seemed quickly growing up), and once or twice Natalie brought our children. Mostly though it was just Marielle and I. It was possible to concentrate on the moment, enjoying each minute of the everyday without rushing towards the next. I gradually found a profound stillness take over my being. I felt young and invigorated. Marielle, as many of you who have seen her work hanging in galleries will understand, during this period became a gifted painter of abstract landscapes. As for me, my music began to develop a profound simplicity.

How many Zen masters does it take to change a lightbulb? The cypress tree in the courtyard.

I have always been a great admirer of the French composer, Erik Satie. He called his Dadaist-inspired explorations Furniture music. He saw it as the sort of music that could be played during a dinner to create a background atmosphere, rather than serving as the focus of attention. Satie is the link between these early twentieth century Art movements and the work of Brian Eno. Recognising me as a fellow sonic sculptor, in 1975, Brian sought me out and came over for a protracted stay. Together we composed music that synthesised melody and texture. Although the expression, ambient music is often attributed to Brian Eno, I like to think that I coined the phrase. Ambient comes from the Latin verb ambire, to surround. Our collaboration produced sonic landscapes, atmospheres and treatments. Film directors came knocking at the door. We had inadvertently created the template for movie soundtracks and background to television drama and documentaries for many years to come. If you watch the BBC you will have heard my music many times without realising it.

I abhorred the right wing politics that began to take over the western world around 1980. The decade could be summed up in one word: greed. Why was everyone so blind to the certainty that uncontrolled consumerism would lead to disaster? What was needed was a new set of guidelines with regard to conglomerates, power generation, air travel, transport, and waste management. And a greater veneration of trees. Marielle and I moved to the New Forest.

The politics of the day were reflected in its music. The decade was a singularly poor one. In the 1980s, popular music reduced itself once more to a succession of bland, artless nursery rhymes. Cheap Yamaha synthesisers and drum machines programmed by greedy, tone-deaf computer programmers produced monotonous, predictable, exhaustible and hackneyed three minute jingles. Flamboyant, androgynous models with streaky makeup and spiked hair pranced around in fancy dress to unrelated storylines in fast-cut short films produced by yuppie film directors. It was a case of nice video, shame about the song. Even established rock acts became mainstream and mediocre issuing insipid power ballads. And jazz began to sound like elevator music. How could you have smooth jazz? Wasn’t it a contradiction in terms? To be fair, classical music fared no better during the period. With its fetish for dissonance, it became all but inaccessible.

Zeitgeist means the spirit of the times, but can also be related to the concept of collective consciousness, which describes how an entire community comes together to share similar values. Was this the explanation for the decline in musical quality perhaps? Subliminally, people had agreed that music was no longer important. It was better to get rich, and quickly.

Tariq Ali had come round for his violin lesson. I put this idea to him. ‘What do you think, Tariq,’ I asked.

‘In times of peace the arts gravitate towards mediocrity,’ he said.

‘There was no war in the 60s, but there was lots of great music,’ I said.

‘No war in the 60s?, he laughed. ‘There was the Vietnam War. We may not have been on the front line but as a culture, we were involved. Didn’t you go on any demonstrations?’

‘I was living in Lanzarote at the time,’ I told him. ‘But I do remember the Battle of Grosvenor Square. You and Vanessa Redgrave were leading the march weren’t you’

‘That is correct. And Mick Jagger wrote Streetfighting Man. But to get back to my point. Do you not recall the famous line in The Third Man about the Swiss?’ he said.

‘Not word for word,’ I said.

‘In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.’

I conceded Tariq’s point.

‘Perhaps we will have another war soon,’ I said. ‘There are some mad people in charge.’

‘I don’t think it will be a war with The Eastern Bloc,’ said Tariq. ‘Russia is not a country you can invade and occupy. War is about occupation and colonisation. The next war will be against Islamic states, where they can send in an occupying force. And, of course, there’s the oil. Iraq’s my guess.’

It seems in retrospect that he was right.

The days get longer and the days get shorter. As you get older the heat of summer makes you uncomfortable, so you look forward to the winter, but you can’t cope with the long dark nights and the cold, so you look forward to the spring, and your life passes by, with this contradiction. You are getting older, but you are willing the time to pass. Seasons replace one another in a relentless procession, as the northern hemisphere tilts towards or away from the sun.

The planet Mercury, according to Luigi, my barber in Ringwood at the time, has no tilt my and therefore no seasons. Luigi was one of those people who seemed to know everything. He had been a contender on Mastermind. His specialist subject was String Theory.

‘No seasons,’ I said. ‘That’s good then, isn’t it? Why couldn’t we live on Mercury?’

‘There is a little problem my friend. It has no atmosphere,’ he said.

‘Not so good for the old breathing then.’

‘And its four hundred degrees during the day and minus two hundred at night.’

‘Bit hard to get used to.’

‘You’ll like this, though,’ Luigi said. ‘Mercury has a large crater called Beethoven which is the largest in the solar system. They have also named craters after Puccini, Verdi, Vivaldi, Schubert, Sibelius and Wagner. It is riddled with craters. You name me a composer and they have probably named a crater on Mercury after him. I’ll find out if they have named one after you, my friend.’

He never did find out. Sadly Luigi died when the steering on his Fiat gave out as he was overtaking an articulated truck near Basingstoke on the M3. He was only sixty two. No age at all.

When you reach your eighties, you understandably find that those around you, those you have known or admired, are dying with increased regularity. When you get a call from a friend you have not heard from in a while, you know it is going to be to inform you that someone you both know has died. The receptionist at the funeral directors gets to recognise your voice, as you order wreathes for lost friends and colleagues with increasing frequency, and you start getting Christmas cards from the undertaker. You find you know all the words to The Old Rugged Cross and Abide With Me, and your copy of The Times falls open at the obituaries. Death is all around. When you visit the doctors with a routine chest infection, you imagine the grim reaper is sitting next to you.

Through the 1980s following Marielle’s death from a rare blood disease, I became acutely aware of my own mortality. It became obvious that one day I would die and although I seemed to be in remarkable health I began to speculate on how I would die and when. None of the ways seemed especially pleasant and most involved a protracted period of pain. Cardiovascular disease was statistically the most likely cause for someone of my age, although hot on its heels were cancer and strokes. Then there were lower respiratory infections, tuberculosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Nostalgia too I found could fuel later-life depression. Don’t look back.

Irving Berlin helped to lift my gloom. Irving was a legend and throughout the twentieth century had had a greater influence upon American music than any other one man. If anyone could deliver a pearl of wisdom, it was Irving. I was fortunate to gain an audience with the great man in a stopover trip to New York to see my grandchildren, as he was by then famously uncooperative. I asked Irving his secret.

‘Music is the key,’ he said. ‘Music had been used in medicine for thousands of years. It enhances memory, helps with concentration, and reasoning skills; even better, it boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, relaxes muscle tension, regulates stress hormones, elevates mood, and increases endurance. That’s what my doctor tells me. And he’s older than I am.’

I knew Irving to be in his late nineties, so that made his doctor very old indeed. ‘I’d better start writing some music soon then,’ I said.

‘Another thing’, said Irving. ‘I presume you’ve reached the age that you suffer from earworm.’

‘Don’t think so,’ I said. ‘It sounds unpleasant, though.’

‘Earworm is where the last tune you heard stays in your head.’ Irving explained.

‘I definitely get that,’ I said.

‘The secret is to make the tune in your head a happy one, one with happy words. Positive affirmations and all that.’

‘What about the old blue musicians?’ I queried. ‘They seem to all live to be a ripe old age despite all the ‘Woke up this morning and my baby had gone’ lyrics.’

‘What! you mean lived to be 27, like Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix’.

He had a point. I was probably being selective. For every John Lee Hooker or Muddy Walters, there was a Blind Boy Fuller or Freddie King.

‘Look at me as a living example of someone who keeps a happy song going round in his head,’ said Irving. ‘It has worked for me.’

‘OK, I will try it.’ I said.

‘At the same time, don’t avoid thoughts of death,’ Irving continued. ‘Remind yourself your death is guaranteed. Facing death should be something that empowers you and heightens your senses. Feel the inevitability of it. Feel the horror of it. And then open your eyes and realise you are now alive.’

It took a little application, but after a while, I arrived at a view whereby death offered an increased opportunity to see what was important. Music of course was as Irving had suggested, the key; this was the way to make my mark. This realisation provided me with motivation. I kept a happy tune in my head and entered a new creative phase. My Tenor Saxophone Concerto was popular, as was my Sextet for Four Pianos, Oboe and Harp. But the piece that gained the most recognition was my opera, Gatto di Schrödinger (Schroedinger’s Cat), which played at opera houses around the world. Who could forget the rousing fortissimo chorus for one hundred voices, ‘Il gatto è tanto vivi e morti.’

Tim Berners-Lee may have been considerably richer had it not been for coming to me for lessons on the cor anglais. Having invented a browser-editor to share and edit information and build a common hypertext, the model for the internet, he was faced with a dilemma. Should he patent the idea, or should he put it in the public domain for the benefit of all? In between run-throughs of Schumann’s Reverie for Cor Anglais and Piano, we discussed the pros and cons of both viewpoints. It may have been my suggestion that the World Wide Web be royalty-free so that networks could adopt universal standards without having to pay their inventors. Someone, he argued, was going to make millions out of the idea, someone like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, for instance.

‘How would you best like to be remembered,’ I asked him. ‘As a universally reviled figure or as a benefactor to humankind?’

He must have taken my point. The next day, after we had been over Respighi’s Pini di Roma, Tim seemed to have changed his position, using some of the very arguments that I had used.

‘The World Wide Web must have an open standard,’ he said. ‘Otherwise, there will be incompatible forms of media, backed by Microsoft and Apple and the like.’

I met Sakura at The Saatchi Gallery in St. John’s Wood at an exhibition called Young British Art. The show featured work by the little known Damien Hirst, Mark Wallinger and Rachel Whiteread, all of who would go on to win the Turner Prize. I had not wanted to see the exhibition after reading the press write-up about tiger sharks immersed in formaldehyde, but a friend whose view I respected told me I had to go.

‘Something important is happening here,’ my friend had said. ‘Damien Hirst’s work is an examination of the fragile boundaries between life and death.’

Sakura caught my look of puzzlement as I took in The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (the fourteen foot tiger shark in the tank). What was Art? I wondered. Where were the boundaries? Paul Gauguin had said ‘Art is either plagiarism or revolution.’ I could accept that Art constantly needed to re-define itself. But in my cynicism, I wondered if was just a question of a dealer or curator saying something was important art, a prominent critic supporting him, and collectors with their mega bucks being persuaded.

‘The shark is a metaphor for mortality,’ Sakura said.

I found myself no longer looking at the unsettling spectacle in the tank. Sakura was a much more attractive prospect for my gaze. She possessed an exquisite beauty. She had long raven black hair, obsidian eyes and rich nut-brown skin with a flourish of red across her cheekbones. Her body pushed in all the right places against the fabric of the tight floral print dress. I was transfixed. I felt a profound surge of well-being. Another bout of rejuvenation was on the way.

I must have come up with some kind of reply, because the next I recall we were eating dinner at Claridge’s and, before I knew it, living together. I wondered later if our meeting had not been set up as a blind date. Sakura wondered the same. She had had a phonecall from the same mutual friend it seemed recommending the exhibition. Sakura worked in television. I did not watch a lot of television, so I was not aware of any of the programmes she had been involved with. In no time at all, she suggested writing my biography.

‘Have you never thought of writing one?’ she asked.

‘I don’t think I’m famous enough,’ I said. In fact, I had many times thought of writing my autobiography, but I was too lazy to start. The project seemed daunting with so many years to cover.

‘Everyone knows who you are,’ she said. ‘But no one knows very much about you. The world is crying out for some insight into your life.’

Sakura had formidable powers of persuasion. The chapters charting my childhood in Louth in the Lincolnshire Wolds were in the bag in a few days. However after the move to North London, sister Susanna joining the Suffragettes, Walter and I going off to war, and Ruth and I marrying, we reached the point where retrieval of memories was becoming more of a challenge. Looking back was becoming vertiginous. It was a long way down.

‘You should have kept a diary,’ said Sakura.

‘I started to,’ I said. ‘ A long time ago. After the First World War……. I think that they may be up in the attic somewhere in an old leather bag.’

Sakura dug them out, four gnarled Evening Standard Diaries from 1918 to 1921, and eagerly began to devour them.

‘What do these xs mean?’ she asked.

I told her.

‘Three or four times a day…… We only make love two or three times a week.’

‘But you aren’t as young as you used to be,’ I joked. She was 46.

‘Why did you stop writing the diary after June 1921?’

It was a fair question. Had I had an unexpected illness? Had I sold my soul to the devil? I couldn’t remember.

The biography progressed even more slowly documenting the years after 1921. I had some recollection as to when I had met celebrity figures, and I had dates for some of my recordings, but with regards to my personal life, there were no records. All of my contemporaries were dead, and even my children had difficulty remembering with any precision. Either that or they had not wanted to cooperate. None of them had taken well to Sakura. I was able to tie up the big events like the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley (I had been introduced to one of my early heroes, Sir Edward Elgar) and The General Strike (I was stuck in Dover with Aleister Crowley for twelve days), but the devil, as it were, was in the detail. You wait until you are my age and Alzheimer’s starts gently kicking in.

Looking back made me question whether the quality of life had changed for the better over the years. We were now able to travel fast over large distances and get information at the click of a mouse, and every year technological gadgets were becoming, smaller, faster, cheaper, and more convenient, but hadn’t we lost our sense of wonder? We seem to have sacrificed a fundamental simplicity. The time and effort spent learning how to use our time and effort saving technology raised the question, at what point would the cost-benefit ratio no longer be in support of our technology? When I was a child, listening to someone reading the story of Alice in Wonderland aloud, without the benefit of even pictures to look at, would have filled me with awe. Nowadays, if a six-dimensional, four headed kraken suddenly materialised in a ring of fire in the room in front of a young child, it would engender no surprise, they would probably just see it as a continuation of Doctor Who or Star Trek.

Sakura and I had gone for a walk in the Wolds around this time from Claxby to Wolds Top. It was a clear day and you could see for miles. We had panoramic views of Lincoln Cathedral, the Humber Bridge and the River Trent. We came across a family having a picnic. While they ate their Subway baguettes, the two youngsters played games on hand-held Nintendos, while the parents looked at domestic appliances in an Argos catalogue. I gathered from their conversation, that they were planning on stopping off at the Lincoln branch on their way home. Nowadays they wouldn’t even need to do this. They could buy the Dyson online from their smartphone or tablet.

‘Do you ever regret parts of your life?’ Sakura asked. She was still working on the biography.

‘Of course!’ I said, not going down the Edith Piaf or Frank Sinatra routes. ‘Many things.’

‘If you could live your life over again, what would you change?’ she asked. Sakura was not by nature a jealous woman, but I think she may have wanted me to say that my marriages to Ruth, Natalie and Marielle had been a mistake. I didn’t take the bait. If there was one thing I had learned about women, it was that each wanted to be the only one you had ever thought of. Apart from which, Ruth and Marielle were both dead, and Natalie, who I hadn’t seen for thirty years, would be in her seventies.

‘I would get up earlier and I would take more time to smell the roses,’ I told her enigmatically. The biography stalled a little.

One morning I pulled back the curtains and saw a ball of bright light blazing brilliantly in the Southern sky. I was mesmerised. I began to understand how the expression, ‘bright as the morning star’ came about. The man in Jessops told me that what I was seeing was Jupiter and, what I needed was a Celestron 8 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain computer controlled telescope. He just happened to have one in stock. It was simple to operate, he said. I would be able to use it right away to discover the delights of star-watching. Once I got it home, I did not find it at all easy, and it sat in the conservatory unused for several months. I had an arts background. I had never learned even the basics about the universe. Finally, with the help of The Beginners’ Guide to the Cosmos, I began very slowly to pick things up.

Each of the billions of stars that I now had access to through the telescope was another sun. The problem was that there were so many of them and I had no idea where to look. After a crash course in constellation spotting on the Internet and the acquisition of a circular star chart called a planisphere, I was able to identify the ever present Plough and use this as a reference point. I was able to distinguish an endless array of spectacular celestial sights. I could now see Jupiter up close, with its four largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, strung out alongside it, Saturn and its unmistakable rings, the forever changing crescent of Venus and the fiery red of Mars. I was also able to see distant nebulae, star clusters and the Great Andromeda galaxy that lies about two million light years beyond our own galaxy, The Milky Way.

For my hundredth birthday, I hired the planetarium. Astronomers like Patrick Moore and George Smoot might not be everyone’s ideal party guests, but the after dinner conversation is not dull. I learned that our sun is four million times as big as Earth and produces so much energy, that every second the core releases the equivalent of one hundred billion nuclear bombs. Also that a supernova is a luminous stellar explosion that occurs when a massive star dies, releasing a huge amount of gamma rays, which can outshine an entire galaxy. After the supernova, the once massive star becomes a neutron star, white dwarf, or if it is large enough, a black hole. Black holes are so dense and produce such intense gravity that even light cannot escape. The Universe I was told is at least 150 billion light-years in diameter. We are talking really big numbers when it comes to space. The scale of it forced me to reconsider my definitions for large; the word that came to mind was astronomical. There were other fascinating disclosures. A bright star which appeared over Bethlehem two thousand years ago suggested the date of Jesus’s birth as June 17th, not December 25th. The star was a magnificent conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, which were so close together they would have shone unusually brightly as a single sudden beacon of light.

The relationship between music and the cosmos probably began with Holst’s The Planets. The work was composed around 1914, just ten years after The Wright Brothers’ first powered flight, and Holst had no idea what was going on out there in space. Little more than fifty years later, we had landed a spacecraft on the moon. The piece of music always associated with this momentous event is Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, which was also used in Stanley Kubrick’s equally important film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Voyager spacecrafts launched in 1977 contained sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form finding them. The music included Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky and Chuck Berry. These have left the Solar System and are now in empty space. In around 40,000 years if things go to plan some unsuspecting alien will be playing air guitar to Johnny B. Goode or singing along to the chorus of My Ding a Ling. More recently, in 2008, NASA beamed The Beatles, Across the Universe at the speed of 186,000 miles per second towards The North Star, just 431 light years away. Time is not on my side, so I am going to have my entire back catalogue beamed to Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, which Stephen Hawking (who incidentally was hopeless on the accordion) informs me, is the most likely place we might find life in the Solar system. This I am told will take a mere 76 minutes.

It is often said you can tell you are getting old when policemen start to look younger. To me, even Chief Superintendents have had the appearance of callow youths since around the time of the Notting Hill riots. I have now had eighteen telegrams from the Queen, and still I can’t help but think of her as the little girl stroking the corgi dog on the Newsreels that accompanied the double features in the 1930s. Saga Holiday adverts seem to me like they are advertising 18 to 30 romps. But there are benefits to being old. As Mark Twain said, ‘Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.’ It is best perhaps to think of youth as a malady from which we all recover. Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.

Lately, there are signs that our 400,000 year tenure of Planet Earth could be coming to an end. Earth may not be able to support the prodigal violations of our stewardship. The forest fires that raged for months in Australia this year were the worst in history, finally doused by storms of biblical proportions, bringing in turn the worst floods in history. The oil well fires that burned in the Middle Eastern conflict clouded the sky for months so that no crops would grow in seven countries in the area. Bangla Desh was reclaimed by the ocean, after all the rivers that drained the Himalayas cascaded into one. Fourteen million people died in the famine in the African country no one knew was there. I see on the news this morning that an iceberg the size of France has just detached itself from Antarctica. It’s all happening. As the writer Kurt Vonnegut said, ‘Dear future generations: Please accept our apologies. We were rolling drunk on petroleum.’

What will tomorrow bring? The answer is up to you. It doesn’t matter much to me. I will be 119 next birthday.

©: Chris Green, 2014 : All rights reserved